With the popularity of people like Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox and the critical acclaim of shows like "Transparent," it's easy to forget that, until very recently, the transgender community was largely unfamiliar to most Americans. But despite modern strides in representation, there's still a glaring omission in the way trans people are accounted for in the U.S.
That was the message "Orange is the New Black" star Cox brought to the 2015 Social Good Summit in New York on Monday, when she pushed for the Census Bureau to find a way to modify its forms to count transgender people.
"What message are we sending to young people who are trans and gender-nonconforming when we don't even count them? We suggest that their identities don't even matter," Cox said during a panel at the event.
"I was thinking that visibility is only part of the equation. We must have social policy, systemic change. And then I thought about the census. Systemically, this idea of the gender binary is very much institutionalized in the fact that we just don't count trans people."
Every 10 years we tally how many men and women there are in the U.S. We have only a very rough estimate of the transgender population, however, which puts it at around 700,000. Neither the U.S. Census Bureau nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keep any verifiable statistics, so it's hard to know what the real number is.
But having a verified number is super important. There have been at least 17 trans women of color murdered this year. According to Mashable, Shelby Chestnut, co-director of community organizing and public advocacy for the Anti-Violence Project (and who was on the panel with Cox), if the statistics on those homicides were counted in federal data, it might make it easier to disrupt the cycle of violence and discrimination.
Not counting transgender Americans is a form of violence, according to Cecilia Chung of the Transgender Law Center, who was also on the panel. This violence that could result in the loss of vital government support and services.
"No one is actually acknowledging our legitimacy to exist," Chung said, according to Mashable.
Among the data points collected by the census are the age, sex and race of everyone in the nation, information that is used in part to determine how many U.S. House of Representatives members each community gets. The constitutionally-mandated count also tries to ensure public funds are distributed equally for things like education, healthcare, social welfare programs, law enforcement and highways.
In a statement issued to MTV News, the Census Bureau said the decisions on what content is included in the census is reached through "careful consideration and public input linked to a federal, legislative or programmatic need for the data."
But, at this time, "the Census Bureau does not have plans to test questions about gender identity or sexual orientation for the 2020 Census or American Community Survey."