With only two weeks left before the close of a survey about discrimination against Sonoma County’s gay, lesbian and transgendered people, organizers with the county’s Human Rights Commission are reaching out to those people, and especially those on the fringe of the local community, to ensure their voices are heard.
The online survey is part of an effort to assess the experience of county residents who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer or intersex and to determine what, if any, programs or services may be needed to ensure their full inclusion in housing, employment, social and political arenas.
More than 300 people have already responded to the questionnaire, which has been available online in English and Spanish since June, according to commission Chairman J. Kevin Jones, who is leading the survey effort on behalf of the LGBTQI Task Force.
But many of the respondents are people in the 35-and-older age range who are comfortable financially and well-connected socially, and thus don’t necessarily reflect the full spectrum of experience, Jones noted.
Jones said he hopes the survey reaches more people of color, youths, seniors and people who may be disabled, homeless, economically disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized.
“I would like to get more, but the intent was never for it to be scientific, as much as to give us a sense of what people in the community are thinking so we can use it as a basis to say,‘We need to do some more work here; these are the needs people are seeing,’ ” he said.
The task force was formed in June 2014 to address the needs of those whose gender identity or sexual preference put them at risk of exclusion from full social and political participation.
Despite California’s many legal protections, Sonoma County’s generally progressive and accepting population and the sizable local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, many within its fold report feeling marginalized.
More than 30 percent of those who have responded to the survey have expressed discomfort about coming out to their neighbors, Jones said.
Many also have voiced the need for resources for those who are aging or young.
Task force member Ramon Meraz noted high rates of suicide among LGBTQI teens, reflecting the challenges of coming of age in a world where heterosexuality and gender assigned at birth are the acknowledged norm.
The survey includes questions on a host of topics like bank loans and housing; employment opportunities and workplace conditions; access to medical care; denial of service from businesses; family acceptance; and experiences with law enforcement, courts, immigration, adoption and other areas.
Of those who have responded so far, “the overwhelming majority of people” have not been subjected to discrimination or hostility based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, Jones said. But some have detailed situations in which they believe they were singled out inappropriately.
The task force will use the survey responses to make recommendations for the larger Human Rights Commission about what can be done to meet the needs of the LGBTQI community, up to and including a separate commission.
“Our hope is, at the end of this, to say, ‘OK, based on what we’re seeing, here is where we think there is an opportunity to do more,’ ” Jones said.