Q&A: Why Is Data On LGBTQ+ Communities Lost In A Fog?

Having good data is step one in identifying and eventually addressing social problems through well-considered policies. But one group that continues to lack representation in data are LGBTQ+ populations. The Center for American Progress notes that “there remains a persistent lack of routine data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity, including the disparities that affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, population—leaving the challenges facing LGBT communities largely unmapped.” 

I asked Jason Richardson, Senior Director of Research and Bruce Mitchell, Senior Analyst about these data challenges on the LGBTQ+ community, how that impacts the work NCRC does, and the broader policy implications. 

What are the challenges of collecting data on the LGBTQ+ community?

Jason Richardson: The same as collecting data for any other group. First, the sexual orientation and gender identify (SOGI) questions need to be asked. That just isn’t the case right now. Often there is the collection of race, ethnicity, gender, income and other items but not SOGI.

Once collected, the way in which the consumer is presented with the question is important. This process is called ‘de-biasing’ the data collection method. This encourages people to fill the data out and minimize any distortions of the data that could exist if some respondents feel that the data could be used against them.

Are the challenges of collecting data in the LGBTQ+ community unique? Have we seen similar challenges with other minority groups before?

Jason Richardson: Understanding how to format the questions is different. Questions have to be stated in terms that are understood and accepted by the LGBTQ+ community and the public in general. There is a lot of discussion and experimentation going on with this right now to minimize any confusion or misunderstanding.

What are some ways that progress has already been made to address these data challenges? What progress would you like to see in the future?

Jason Richardson: Well, I mean the discussion is happening. Ten years ago, the lack of SOGI data (and the policy implications) was not a big consideration. That is progress. But I would like to see more testing and experimentation with the terminology and format of the questions to determine how to elicit responses and produce the best set of data from which decisionmakers, policymakers and others who use the data can be better informed.

How does the lack of data about the LGBTQ+ community impact some of the work related to NCRC (e.g. with regards to lending or housing issues)?

Jason Richardson: It is really difficult right now to really understand the impact of lending discrimination, branch closures, or other bank regulatory changes on the LGBT community. It’s particularly challenging without SOGI data to tease out the impact of other forms of discrimination (racial, age, gender, etc.) from LGBT status.

Bruce Mitchell: I’d add here that neighborhood level impacts are different than for racial/ethnic minorities. Segregation – neighborhood level clustering plays out differently for LGBTQ+ people. It is certainly a factor, but is more difficult to spatially define because of data inadequacies. There may also be inadequacies in data collection for reasons of data privacy, and because of the longstanding societal pressure not to identify. Much of the same-sex couple mortgage data must be imputed at this point, making it difficult to accurately assess impacts of discrimination on the community. 

In 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau updated a rule to prevent lenders from discriminating on the basis of gender or sexuality. Why do you think it took so long to include gender and sexuality in these rules, and what impact do you think this will have? 

Bruce Mitchell: Societal and political consciousness on the issue of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people has undergone a rapid evolution. It has taken time for our laws and regulatory agencies to address this as an issue of basic human rights. States still have punitive laws on their books concerning homosexuality, so it is an ongoing struggle to develop a legal framework protecting people regardless of their sexual orientation. Having accurate, comprehensive data on LGBTQ+ people can help identify inequities in customer service and financial access. Equity is crucial to opportunities for homeownership and success in the success of small businesses, both of which require access to capital.


Amy Lieber is a Health Equity intern at NCRC.

Photo by calvin chou on Unsplash

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