During the Obama administration, at least four federal agencies, including the Justice Department, asked the Census Bureau to add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to the American Community Survey, NPR has learned.
Besides the Justice Department, those agencies include the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Still, in March, the bureau concluded there was "no federal data need" to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity on the largest survey in the U.S., which is conducted with about 3.5 million households each year and is used to help distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds.
Many LGBT rights groups say accurate national data about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are critical in making sure their needs are met.
On Tuesday, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., announced that they are reintroducing a bill in Congress that would require the American Community Survey, the decennial census and other federal surveys with demographic information to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity. Under the LGBT Data Inclusion Act, this data would be kept confidential, and survey participants would not be required to provide it.
The U.S. Census Bureau might have started asking Americans about sexual orientation and gender identity if the Department of Justice had not backed off its request for information about LGBT populations, former Census Bureau Director John Thompson told NPR's Code Switch.
Justice Department officials under the Trump administration contacted the Census Bureau about the "appropriateness" of certain sexual orientation and gender identity topics appearing on the upcoming American Community Survey, according to a letter sent in March by the Commerce Department that was published on Carper's website. The Commerce Department oversees the Census Bureau.
Less than a week after that letter was sent, the Justice Department wrote to the Commerce Department saying that it was "unable to reaffirm" its request for information about LGBT populations "because such a request requires thorough analysis and careful consideration."
After receiving that update from the Justice Department, the Census Bureau stopped evaluating whether to include sexual orientation and gender identity questions, according to Thompson, who resigned as Census Bureau director on June 30.