A recipient of Meals on Wheels services in Sacramento County, Calif., felt alarmed when she received a call from a representative of the nonprofit polling her on her sexual orientation and gender identity.
Carol Alexander, 83, answered the call from Meals on Wheels Friday, reports The Sacramento Bee. On the line was not her usual caseworker, but a man who asked her questions she found offensive, including: "What is your sex? Do you still associate with your gender? Are you heterosexual? Are you white or Hispanic?"
“I was in shock. I took offense to that,” Alexander told The Sacremento Bee. Alexander, who is white, said she didn't understand why they asked if she was Hispanic but not if she was any other race, and was particularly vexed by questions on LGBTQ identity. “I’m ticked off. Why do they ask an 83-year-old this?”
These questions, it turns out, are required to be asked due to new California legislation on the surveying of LGBTQ people.
According to Wheels Program Director David Morikawa, California’s LGBT Disparities Reduction Act, which went into effect in July, requires meal-delivery services to ask questions from a survey to the recipients of its services.
Surveying those who receive meals is a provision of Assembly Bill 959 and AB 677, which mandates that several state departments gather information on LGBTQ identity when they are also surveying ethnicity.
However, these responses are optional. Meals on Wheels recipients like Alexander are not required to answer questions. “She doesn’t have to answer that,” Morikawa confirmed to The Sacremento Bee.
However, Alexander, who recently suffered a stroke, was still was so offended that Meals on Wheels asked her the optional questions that she considered pulling out from receiving the program's benefits.
“These are stupid,” she said. “It just blows my mind that they have to do this.”
The goal of the legislation is to use data collected to more accurately provide resources for same-sex couples, citing studies that show they are at higher risk to suffer from cancer, mental illness, substance abuse, and other health problems.
“It is in the best interests of the state to respect, embrace, and understand the full diversity of its residents and to collect accurate data to effectively implement and deliver critical state services and programs,” AB 959 states.
The California departments of Aging, Health Care Services, Public Health, and Social Services are currently subject to the law, and the policy will soon become standard at the departments of Education, Fair Employment and Housing, and Industrial Relations by July 1, 2018. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, the Employment Training Panel, and the Employment Development Department will also be affected.
Although Alexander found the optional questions to be offensive, they are actually seen as a victory for LGBTQ advocates, who have been pushing for more data to be collected on queer people after the Trump administration canceled plans to add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to the U.S. Census.
The policy of not counting LGBTQ people is widely seen as a way to erase and diminish the community and allow the government to divert federal funding away from the group.
“As you have stated in the past, complete Census data is critical ‘to meet a wide range of federal needs — from providing apportionment and redistricting data as part of our representative democracy, to helping distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds annually,’” U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Tom Carper of Delaware wrote in a letter regarding the removal of LGBTQ questions from the U.S. Census in May 2017. “This is why it is critical that the Census Bureau’s process to include subjects to fairly and accurately count all Americans is impartial and free from undue interference."
Programs like Meals on Wheels are funded by local, state, and federal governments, and have useful data pertaining to the elderly on each level. In Sacramento, the charity has 5,660 participants and over 500 volunteers.
“We just want to make sure we’re representing the people that are in our community,” Morikawa concluded.