What Data can tell us about being LGBTQ in the US

Earlier this month, The Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on providing support and suicide prevention care to LGBTQ youth released the largest nationwide survey ever conducted on LGBTQ mental health with over 34000 respondents. The data, which is refreshingly inclusive of both the diversity and the intersectionality of gender-variant experiences of young people, also reveals how much work still needs to be done in this area and prompts us towards future milestones that need to be set.

“This ground-breaking survey provides new insights into the challenges that LGBTQ youth across the country face every day, including suicide, feeling sad or hopeless, discrimination, physical threats and exposure to conversion therapy.”

Some key findings illustrated in the 12 page report were:

71% of LGBTQ youth in our study reported discrimination due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity

58% of transgender and non-binary youth reported being discouraged from using a bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity

76% of LGBTQ youth felt that the recent political climate impacted their mental health or sense of self

Data Images from The Trevor Project. (2019). National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health. New York, New York: The Trevor Project. Header Image:  Photo by Nadine Shaabana

The Blurred Lines of Data Sovereignty

Data are often thought of as digital. They are also discrete, spatial, lateral and seemingly non-subjective. Data demands tags, classes, branches and categories in order to be meaningful. Data needs to exist in parts to be whole. The biases that inherently accompany the creation of Data often dwindle into the ether around captivating visualizations that take the center stage. Biases such as choices of tags, design agendas, and economic entities that commissioned the datasets.

Data needs to exist in parts to be whole.

To be visualized coherently, Data needs ‘cleaning up’ and clean datasets project outwards. They raise questions about everything but themselves. Clean datasets afford us the convenience of neat, untarnished algorithms. When these datasets are made open, in the hands of the public domain the resulting algorithmic universe amplifies. We applaud and embrace the ideals of Open Data as reflection and reassurance of a digital democracy.

But, what happens when Data wants (and needs) to be protected? What happens when communities that have collected, created, owned, applied and disseminated knowledge for generations employ methods of preservation that Data-as-we-know-it resists? What happens when it is crucial for certain types of Data to be both sheltered as well as communicated? What happens when Data refuses qualitative distillation and the quantitative bulk is intricately tethered to the undiscountable lived experience?

Indigenous Data Sovereignty is one such domain, specifically the data concerning sexual violence against Indigenous women.

Crosscut interviewed Abigail Eco-Hawk, the Chief Research Officer of the Seattle Indian Health Board about Data Collection and Knowledge Creation that are separate from and not rooted in Western methods of understanding Data.

The following are excerpts from the article.

“When we think about data, and how it’s been gathered, is that, from marginalized communities, it was never gathered to help or serve us. It was primarily done to show the deficits in our communities, to show where there are gaps. And it’s always done from a deficit-based framework.

“As indigenous peoples, we have always been gatherers of data, of information. We’ve always been creators of original technology.

“When I went to the University of Washington, I was able to take some of the Western knowledge systems and understand how that related to the indigenous. I recognized that the systems that were currently working towards evaluation, data collection, technology, science, and the way that we looked at the health of Native people weren’t serving my people, because they didn’t have the indigenous framework.

“Decolonizing data means that the community itself is the one determining what is the information they want us to gather. Why are we gathering it? Who’s interpreting it? And are we interpreting it in a way that truly serves our communities?

“[The Seattle Indian Health Board] had decided to not publish this information because of how drastic the data was showing the rates of sexual violence against Native women. There were fears that it could stigmatize Native women, and that would cause more harm than good. But those women had shared their story, and we had a responsibility to them, and to the story, and I take that very seriously.

One of the ways that there is a continuing genocide against American Indians/Alaska Natives is through data. When we are invisible in the data, we no longer exist. When I see an asterisk that says “not statistically significant,” or they lump us together with Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans — you can’t lump racial groups together. That is bad data practice.

“I always think about the data as story, and each person who contributed to that data as storytellers. What is our responsibility to the story and our responsibility to the storyteller? Those are all indigenous concepts, that we always care for our storytellers, and we always have a responsibility to our stories.

Read the full article here.