The Department of Justice (DOJ) has submitted a request seeking to revise questions relating to sexual orientation and gender identity on a key survey that collects data on victims of crime.
The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is the nation's primary source of information on criminal victimization, and it has been asking respondents 16 and older about their sexual orientation and gender identity since July 2016.
The DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics requested that the minimum age for answering these questions be raised from 16 to 18, citing "concerns about the potential sensitivity of these questions for adolescents," according to the official document with the submitted request.
Administered annually since 1973, the survey currently collects information from a nationally representative sample of 135,000 households, roughly 225,000 people, on the victims of nonfatal personal crimes such as rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault.
Respondents provide information about themselves such as age, sex, race, marital status, income and whether they experienced a victimization. The survey also collects data about the offender, the characteristics of the crime and whether or not it was reported. Respondents are ages 12 and older.
Adam Romero is the director of legal scholarship and federal policy at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. He told NBC News the survey is an important tool for collecting data on LGBTQ people, a community that suffers high rates of violence.
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"It's important to note that those questions are voluntary and confidential," Romero said of the proposed revision. "According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it's making this move due to the potential sensitivity to 16 and 17 year olds, but those questions aren't any more sensitive than others on the survey."
The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP), an organization dedicated to tracking and curbing violence against LGBTQ people, strongly criticized the DOJ's request.
"This survey is one of the main sources of data on crime, and it is vital for informing policy related to all forms of violence in ensuring that victims, even youth, can access support," Emily Waters, senior manager of national research at AVP, told NBC News. "We know that LGBTQ youth experience high rates of violence, and our government should be seeking to better understand this violence, not rendering it invisible."
Ellen Kahn, director of the Children, Youth and Families Program at the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, told NBC News young people are usually keenly aware of their gender identity at a young age, and she said sexual orientation can emerge and be "quite clear" as early as 11 or 12, even if it isn't necessarily static.
She added that collecting data on LGBTQ teens is key to understanding and addressing the disparities they face.
"Some of the greatest vulnerabilities are experiences with bullying in schools, and overrepresentation of LGBTQ youth both in foster care and among the population of homeless youth," she said, factors that make them more susceptible to being victims of a crime.
This is not the first time under the Trump administration that a government agency has been accused of erasing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals from federal questionnaires.
In March of last year, advocates were outraged after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) removed questions about LGBTQ seniors from an annual survey that determines services for elderly Americans.
Then just last month, government watchdog group Sunlight Foundation released a report that found the Department of Health and Human services had quietly removed lesbian and bisexual content from its women's health website last fall.
Romero said government agencies should lead the way in "improving our knowledge of the LGBTQ population."
"It makes no sense to not try to better understand the problem, so we can design policies and interventions based on the best available evidence," he added.
The DOJ's proposed revision to the NCVS is currently accepting comments until May 11 and will be implemented within six months pending approval from the Office of Management and Budget.
The DOJ declined NBC News' request for comment.
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