The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is a federally administered survey that provides some of the most crucial data in the United States on the demographics of crime victims, including their sexual orientation and gender identity. The NCVS is administered to youth and adults in households across the country, but last week the Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a public comment proposing to raise the minimum age for respondents to be asked about their sexual orientation and gender identity from 16 to 18.
This announcement is especially concerning given that LGBTQ youth are particularly vulnerable to violence and other crimes.
The NCVS collects a crucial and otherwise-invisible point of data: crimes not reported to the police. There are myriad reasons LGBTQ people—particularly young people, those of color, gender non-conforming people, and individuals who are not safely out to their families—might want to avoid reporting a crime to the police. And since the NCVS helps allocate federal and state funding toward crime prevention, understanding the true level of crime incidence is very important.
When information is collected, it shows that LGBTQ young people, especially bisexual and transgender individuals, have high rates of crime victimization. This is supported by other research: A survey of nearly 27,000 Minnesotan college students found that 47 percent of bisexual students had experienced sexual assault in the past year. In 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equality surveyed over 27,000 transgender people across the country: Nearly a quarter reported being physically attacked when they were in primary or secondary school. An analysis of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, another federal survey of high-school age youth that asks questions about sexual orientation found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are at increased risk for violence.
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Sandra C., the mother of a 16-year-old gay boy in Utah, described a pattern of harassment that culminated in her withdrawing her son from the school:
“My son was dragged down the lockers, called ‘gay’ and ‘fag’ and ‘queer,’ shoved into a locker, and picked up by his neck. And that was going on since sixth grade. They tried shoving him into a girl’s bathroom and said that he’s worthless and should be a girl.”
It is particularly important to collect information on younger LGBTQ survivors of violence.
Younger people are particularly vulnerable to violence and other crimes committed by someone in their family: In 2017, an annual survey by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that people under age 25 were almost five times more likely to report experiencing violence by a relative. And according to an older analysis of the factors leading to increased risk of homelessness for LGBTQ youth, a quarter of bisexual youth reported that they experienced homelessness because of physical abuse inflicted by their parents.
This isn’t the Trump administration’s first attack on LGBTQ-specific data collection. Last year, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it would be pulling questions on participants’ sexual orientation and gender identity from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants (NSOAAP). Strong participation in the public comment process (including comments from over 13,000 individuals) led to ACL reinstating the sexual orientation question, but the gender identity question is still out.
In late 2017, a leak from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a list of words that agency officials were discouraging from use in 2018 budgeting documents. Among the list of words were “diversity,” “evidence-based,” and “transgender.” Equally worrisome is the administration’s removal of important pages on the HHS website on the health of lesbian and bisexual women.
In early 2018, the administration released its report of the proposed topics to be surveyed in the 2020 Census. Despite some advocacy from LGBTQ organizations, sexual orientation was not among them. Questions about sexual orientation have never been asked through the Census. It is worth noting that in the proposed survey, new questions on marital status will help researchers better estimate the numbers of same-sex couples across the country. (The proposed Census will also ask participants about citizenship status, a dangerous precedent that could lead to overt discrimination.)
Data on the lives of LGBTQ people is important, and federal agencies shouldn’t shy away from collecting it for propriety’s sake, or for any other reason. Propriety was left behind when LGBTQ young people were made survivors of violence and other crimes.