by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
If you happen upon a blue truck covered with the smiling faces of people of all ages and ethnicities, it should serve to remind you that, just like the beginning of every decade, it's census time. The truck is part of the 2010 Portrait of America Road Tour. The U.S. Census Bureau - the government agency that handles the census, which falls under the Department of Commerce - has hired people of all ages and ethnicities to take part in the tour to get the word out about the national survey that's required by the United States Constitution to be carried out by the government every 10 years.
SGN met up with the Portrait of America Road Tour when they stopped at Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill on March 29. Amidst rain, wind, and thunder, members of the tour distributed free census merchandise such as tote bags, backpacks, water bottles, and T-shirts to anyone who filled out and mailed their census.
So what does this mean for us? Well, legally, everyone who calls America home is required to fill out the census, whether you're a legal citizen or not - even if you're homeless. It also means that the Census Bureau has taken special care in hiring people from our community to get the word out the LGBT community.
This is the first census ever where if you consider yourself "married" to your partner, you can list them as your husband or wife, regardless of same-sex marriage legality in your state or domestic partnership laws or status.
This time around, the Census Bureau wants you to fill out the survey however you see fit; however you see yourself in regards to race, gender, and martial status.
"There have been a lot of progressive updates," said Hillary Bingman, a partnership specialist with the Seattle Regional Census Center. This is the first time in history that you can identify with multiple races in the U.S. census.
The census asks for only the most basic of your information: name, gender, age, race, martial status, and whether you rent or own property - that's it.
Naturally, this begs the question, "Where does my information go?"
According to Bingman, the Census Bureau, by law, cannot share any of your personal information with any other entity, federal or private. Even under the Patriot Act (H.R. 3162), which former President George W. Bush signed into law in October 2001 and can call for any person's privacy to be invaded with or without their knowledge or consent at any time by the Department of Homeland Security, the information collected in the United States Census is completely confidential.
Even if you're currently serving on active duty in the United States armed forces, you cannot be outed by the census; your information is absolutely and entirely private.
Essentially, the census works like this: The U.S. Census Bureau tallies up all the responses and uses them to create statistics, which are presented to the federal government. The government then uses the information to distribute funding on the state and municipal level across the nation.
This is why Americans from every color and flavor of the American spectrum who have joined the Portrait of America Road Tour want you to fill out your census.
"It comes down to about $1,400 per person per year," said Bingman. "That's $16,800 until the next census. It's basically like writing a check to your community."
According to Bingman, each person - not to be confused with each household, which is how the census is distributed - will get their community approximately $1,400 a year for the next 10 years if they fill out this year's census. This means more money for parks, roads, hospitals, and schools - things that are essential for everyone, Gay, straight, or anywhere in between.
Five predominantly minority K-12 schools in Seattle were closed last year alone due to lack of funding. The census is real, the money is real, and the repercussions of not filling it out are immediate and severe.
Bingman likens the importance of filling out the census to voting.
"The 2010 census is so important for the LGBT community," said Che Rudell-Tabisola, who works for the National LGBT Partnership in Washington, D.C. "Literally billions of dollars come to our community from the census & so fill it out and mail it back."
If you don't fill out your census and mail it, expect a knock on your door in the coming months with government employees asking you why you haven't filled it out. Likewise, if the $16,800 check to your community isn't enough for you, visit www.2010censusjobs.gov to become one of these door-to-door government census takers.
According to census officials, most Americans should have already received their census - if not, you'll be getting it soon. It takes about three minutes per person in your household to fill out the census, and it doesn't cost you anything to mail your census back; the postage is already paid.
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