Research Report Do No Harm Guide: Collecting, Analyzing, and Reporting Gender and Sexual Orientation Data
Jonathan Schwabish, Donovan Harvey, Mel Langness, Vincent Pancini, Amy Rogin, Gabi Velasco
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The fight to recognize and respect the dignity and rights of LGBTQIA+ people has raised the visibility of multiple dimensions of gender and sexual orientation, expanding conception of these identities beyond the binary definitions of man or woman, straight or gay. This fifth guide of the Urban Institute’s Do No Harm Project explores the current state of data around gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The collection of demographic (or identity-based) data is often complicated by the evolution and nuance of language; words or phrases used yesterday may not be the same today or tomorrow. By understanding these changes and employing data best practices, researchers, analysts, and other stakeholders can help ensure that such data are used for good—to help address disparities and inequities faced by LGBTQIA+ people and to assess the effects of policies, interventions, and societal attitudes on their lives. 

Our goal with this guide is to provide a series of considerations, and in some cases recommendations, regarding collecting, analyzing, and communicating quantitative data on gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The following are five key points to keep in mind when working with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data:

  1. Researchers must tell people why their data are being collected. Making clear why a person’s data will help answer important research and policy questions is fundamental for building trust, which will ultimately result in better-quality data.
  2. Doing SOGI research is just like doing any good research. No matter the type of research, researchers should be clear about the questions they are asking, what data they need to answer those questions, and why.
  3. There is no one way to collect SOGI data. Some experts argue that asking questions about a person’s transgender status should be accomplished by asking two separate, consecutive questions, whereas others say a single question with a list of options or even an open-ended (i.e., write-in) option is a better approach. 
  4. Language-to-language translation can be complicated. Making surveys and data collection efforts as well as final dissemination of products available to people who do not speak English can pose additional concern.
  5. Privacy and safety are real and serious concerns. Any organization collecting, storing, and analyzing SOGI data needs to take data privacy concerns seriously. 

Collecting, analyzing, and communicating these data are crucial to provide evidence, shape public discourse, and guide decisionmaking to protect LGBTQIA+ rights and improve their overall well-being. But none of this data work can be done without considering the ramifications for people’s physical and mental health, their ability to live and work, and the threats to their personal freedoms.

Research Areas Sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression Race and equity
Tags LGBTQ+ equity LGBTQ+ rights and antidiscrimination Structural racism in research, data, and technology Trauma-informed approaches
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center
Research Methods Data analysis Qualitative data analysis Data collection
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