The Constitution mandates that Americans be counted.
But that doesn't guarantee that every American has always counted equally -- or, for that matter, been counted for who they are.
That's something to remember on this National Census Day (April 1), when the decennial process moves into full gear. This is a moment at which to fill out the form and to ponder what is missing from it.
The first Census, in 1790, for instance, counted only three out of five African Americans in the southern slave states (as part of the Constitution's grotesque three-fifths "compromise") and failed to American Indians.
Only in 1860 did American Indians begin to be counted, and then only is narrow categories. Only in 1880 were women allowed to do the counting.
Throughout this country's history, civil rights, feminist and social justice groups have advocated for an expansion of the Census to count all Americans. These are essential struggles toward making the Census what it can and should be: a true picture of the United States, taken every ten years, which can be used to assure that representative government really is representative, that resources are distributed equitably and that Americans are counted into -- not out of -- the republic.
One of today's great struggles is to assure that LGBT Americans count.
While the Census that is now being completed will be the first that makes it possible for married same-sex couples to be counted, the Census fails for the most part to recognize LGBT individuals and families.
"Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are essentially rendered invisible in the survey that is supposed to reflect the diversity of America's population--and that's a big problem," explains National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Darlene Nipper. "When LGBT people aren't counted, we also don't count when it comes to services, resources and programs. Census data is the basis for how the government spends more than $400 billion each year. This data affects everything from local school board funding to health programs to federal policy; without an accurate count of the LGBT community, we lose out on funding for real, everyday services and we largely remain invisible in the eyes of the government."
The Task Force, which campaigned to assure that this year's Census counts married same-sex couples, has now launched a "Queer the Census" campaign to assure that the next Census -- and, equally importantly, that interim Census estimates and other federal surveys -- will accurately count LGBT individuals and families.
The campaign is encouraging Americans (members of the LGBT community and straight allies) to attach a pink sticker on the back of the census envelope that asks the U.S. Census Bureau to count everyone. So far, more than 100,000 stickers have been requested from the "Queer the Census" website, where they can also sign the Task Force’s petition to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and to the U.S. Census Bureau. The petition seeks an expansion of the Census in future years to ask whether responders are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
"The data collected affects issues critical to everyone — like our health care, our economic stability and even our safety," says the Task Force's Nipper. "Tens of thousands of people are queering the census and telling the federal government that it's time to count us all."
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow is blunter.
Her blog declares: "We're Here, We're Queer, Count Us!"