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LGBT Week: Denice Cassaro on Using Open-Ended Demographic Categories to Learn About Race, Ethnicity, Sex, and Gender

My name is Denice Cassaro. I am strongly committed to serving as a positive social change agent and educator through the use of evaluation processes. I have found incorporating queer/feminist/critical race theories helpful by the challenges offered in:

  • understanding concepts of identities (race/ethnicity, sex/gender, sexual orientation/preference) as socially constructed
  • not minimizing the impact/meaning of intersecting identities (experiences of someone who identifies as an African-American gay man vs as a heterosexual Latina)

In evaluation, an area that most frequently engages directly with issues of identity is in the collection of “demographic data.” I would like to explore with you considerations when forming identity categories.

Lesson Learned: Our choices of categories, headings, and response options, all have implications in terms of respondents’ feelings of inclusion or exclusion, the parameters for interpretation of results, and the parameters of possible effects from the interpreted results.

Hot Tip: Use open-ended demographic categories rather than those with limited options based on coding “efficiency”. Good examples include:

  1. When asked about your racial or ethnic identity(ies), how do you identify yourself?
  2. What racial or ethnic identity(ies) do others who do not know you attribute to you?
  3. When asked about your sexual orientation or preference, how do you identify yourself?
  4. What sexual orientation or preference do others who do not know you attribute to you?

Benefits include:

  • Feelings of inclusivity for participant
  • Awareness of scope of identities prior to coding allowing for a variety of coding methods
  • Certain identities may emerge as significant (in my work, being Jewish; identifying as LBGT ally)
  • Understanding for some identities, a person’s experiences may be different based on their “perceived” identity (in U.S., frequently true for some Latinos/Latinas who may be identified as African-American or white; being perceived as gay/lesbian when heterosexual or vice versa)
  • Insight into the impact certain identities have on individuals or groups (my work: “white, I really am a bad person”; “I am not black, I am Ghanaian American. I don’t like to be categorized as black, it’s just a color not who I am”; “I’m straight, I’m NOT gay”; “Straight, with GLBT sympathies”)

Rad Resource: To understand more about issues of gender, sexuality, and evaluation, consider reading New Directions for Evaluation Number 96 – Feminist Evaluation: Explorations and Experiences, Denise Seigart and Sharon Brisolara, editors.

Please note: for this discussion I am using the terms race/ethnicity, sex/gender and sexual orientation/preference though the combinations do not mean the same thing and their meanings have been conflated in daily use and in our practice. That is a discussion for another day!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating LGBT Evaluation Week with our colleagues in the LGBT AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our LGBT members and you may wish to consider subscribing to our weekly headlines and resources list where we’ll be highlighting LGBT resources. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice.

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