Challenges of Gender Bias and Data Collection

In 2013, our office (CARD) began to track transgender/gender-variant authorized ministers within the United Church of Christ through the UCC Data Hub. As of August 2015, there are eight active, non-retired authorized ministers who identify as transgender/gender-variant within the database, which constitutes 0.1% of all active, non-retired authorized ministers (Fall 2015 Statistical Profile, p. 18). These figures are based solely on self-identification as reported to a minister’s association or conference; however, due to the unfortunate social stigma that still exists for the LGBTQ community, I can see how an individual may not be as forthcoming with this information, even for our purposes as church statisticians.

In August, MESA team staff contributed a blog post that addressed the need for search committees to recognize and overcome bias within the UCC Search and Call process as experienced by Members in Discernment specifically. By focusing on individual gifts and making a concerted effort to include the many diversities we celebrate as a church, we can truly live the statement “that they may all be one” instead of simply proclaiming it.

Our office mission states that “We are a church-wide resource whose mission is to gather, provide, and interpret information and trends for the purpose of illuminating the past, realizing the present, and envisioning the future of the United Church of Christ in the larger social context.” So you see, our work is cut out for us! Suspicion often arises around why we would need to “track” many of the demographic categories for churches and ministers; but in order to provide information on trends of the past and the potential of the future, it is important that we attempt to obtain the most accurate information possible to assist the church in making informed decisions that represent our realities.

Research Matters, the US Census Bureau blog, posted an article entitled “Characteristics of Likely-Transgender Individuals in Administrative Records and the 2010 Census by Dr. Benjamin Cerf Harris, an economist for the Center for Administrative Records. Harris attempts to identify the number of people that are likely transgender in the United States to see if these numbers have grown or decreased since 1936. The blog post is a summation of Dr. Harris’s working paper titled “Likely Transgender Individuals in U.S. Federal Administrative Records and the 2010 Census.” He uses the term “likely-transgender” because the Census questionnaire offers only two options to select for gender–male or female. Nonetheless, through access to the (SSA) Social Security Administration data–specifically names, birth dates, and sex coding for adults with a social security number–Harris compared this data with the 2010 Census responses.

Harris found that individuals who are likely transgender are less likely to answer the question of sex; and when there is a response to the question, both male and female boxes are selected. Another interesting takeaway from this study is that likely-transgender individuals (based on the Social Security data) are concentrated in western and northeastern states that have adopted legal protections against gender identity discrimination. In states without anti-discrimination laws, there is a noticeably smaller concentration, which may simply mean that transgender persons within states with legal protections may feel more comfortable responding to the gender question in non-binary ways. This also makes me wonder how states without anti-discrimination laws correspond with our UCC self-identified LGBTQ populations, as well as the locations of our Open and Affirming congregations. The findings might identify places where there are needs for more inclusive ministries.

In closing, as the needs of the church evolve, so must the way we identify viable leadership qualities. Essentially, everyone loses when policies and decisions are made with inaccurate data, especially for groups who are (for various reasons) unable to be forthcoming due to conscious and unconscious bias. There is space for everyone’s unique gifts in ministry no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey.

taylorTaylor Billings is the Research Specialist for the UCC Center for Analytics, Research and Data. She has served in the national setting of the denomination for 15 years and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Global Interactions at Cleveland State University.

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