Issues

EPA: Gender Is ‘Male, Female, a Blend of Both, or Neither’

Agency continues collecting info about employees' sexual orientation

gender
AP

The Environmental Protection Agency is entering its second phase of a data project to collect information on the sexual orientation of its employees.

The Sexual Orientation Gender Identity (SOGI) pilot program allows EPA employees to voluntarily disclose their gender identity and sexual orientation, information that the agency says is "crucial" to an "inclusive" workplace.

After first focusing on employees in Midwestern states, the EPA is now opening up the database to all employees so they can answer questions about their sexual preferences and gender, specifying whether they are "male, female, a blend of both, or neither." All employees will be able to answer the questions early next month.

"Sexual orientation is ‘an inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people,'" the EPA told employees on its agency-wide intranet. The Washington Free Beacon obtained copies of pages from the intranet about the program.

"Gender identity is ‘[o]ne’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither—how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves,'" the EPA said.

"Both sexual orientation and gender identity are part of our demographic makeup; we all have both a sexual orientation and a gender identity," the agency said.

The agency directed its employees to definitions of gender identity and expression from the Human Rights Campaign.

The EPA offers employees the chance to anonymously answer survey questions about their gender and sexual orientation. The agency said the first phase of the project, which surveyed employees in the Midwest's Region 5, had a response rate of over 40 percent.

The government hopes it can use the data to "promote equal employment opportunities" and "cultivate workplace diversity and inclusion."

The EPA said data on sexual orientation and gender identity would impact policies within the agency.

"SOGI data alone, like other workforce demographics, may not be used as a basis for making any employment decisions," the EPA said. "However, systematic and comprehensive assessment of each of the four interrelated areas can help inform the formulation of policies, practices, and programs to maximize employee engagement and enhance organizational effectiveness."

The EPA encourages all of its employees to participate because "everyone has a sexual orientation."

The first frequently asked question listed for the project reads: "I'm not a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community; does SOGI data collection apply to me? Should I still provide SOGI data?"

"Everyone has a sexual orientation and gender identity; this Pilot is not just about the LGBT community," the EPA said. "Having data from everyone (both the LGBT community and the non-LGBT community) will provide a more robust data set enabling better analyses. Everyone is welcome to participate."

The EPA also said gender is "an evolving area."

"Like some other demographics, this is an evolving area of ongoing study," the EPA said. "You may notice the particular terms in these SOGI questions are not the same terms you would use to self-identify. However, the SOGI questions in EPA's Pilot reflect the goal, from a survey methodology standpoint, to gather enough data to help improve assessments of equal employment opportunity and diversity and inclusion efforts."

EPA Chief of Staff Matt Fritz sent an email on Monday informing employees that they can attend information sessions on the data collection in each of the EPA's 10 regions.

"I want to be clear that this pilot is about all of us, not just the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community," Fritz said. "We all have a sexual orientation and gender identity, and participation in the pilot by a diverse set of people will enable better analyses. Please note that your participation in the pilot is completely voluntary. As an employee, your participation in workforce demographic data collection can help ensure robust data sets, which are vitally important to the success of EPA’s broader inclusive diversity efforts."

It is unclear how much the pilot program is costing taxpayers. An EPA spokesperson told the Free Beacon that the project has no official budget, but its costs are minimal.

When asked why the agency thinks it is important to know the sexual orientation of all of its employees, the spokesperson said it will be used to identify barriers to equal employment.

"Workforce demographic data collection allows federal agencies to assess whether individuals have equal opportunity for employment," the spokesperson said. "It enables a robust and scientific way to identify any potential barriers to equal employment opportunity, and then to design solutions to address those potential barriers."

"Collection and analysis of demographic data will allow EPA to better understand the experience of all employees, regardless of race, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, and explore solutions that enable every employee to be fully engaged at work," the spokesperson added.