News that sexual orientation and gender identity could be included in the census – if initial testing goes well – is welcome news.
Historically lesbian, gay and bi people have been a hidden population. While there has been greater visibility, statistics have been little more than estimates. And although there is no comprehensive national data on sexual identity, research into the experiences of lesbian, gay and bi people show that they experience disproportionate levels of discrimination including in schools, employment and in access to goods and services.
If lesbian, gay and bi people have been hidden, then trans people have been invisible as far as statistics go. Trans people experience high levels of discrimination and prejudice, yet there is complete a lack of accurate population data for this group.
Stonewall relies on published population estimates, together with our own research, in order to understand and communicate the impact of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and to support policy-makers, employers and service-providers to develop targeted interventions.
Accurate population data on sexual orientation and gender identity allows organisations to develop services and initiatives which are targeted to the needs of their LGBT employees and/or service-users and local communities, and in doing so meet their requirements under the Equality Act 2010 to eliminate unlawful discrimination against, and promote equality of opportunity for, LGBT people. This can include things like LGBT youth groups, specialised mental health support services or specific hate crime reporting services.
Accurate data would have a significant impact on policy development at a national level, equipping government bodies and regulators with the knowledge they need to develop programmes of work which have a positive impact on LGBT people. Census data on age, ethnicity, and a range of other characteristics has been key to evidencing a need for action and we believe the same is true when it comes to tackling the barriers which LGBT people face.
But before we get too excited – simply asking the question is only the first step. We are conscious that there are challenges involved in ensuring that accurate data on sexual identity and gender identity can be collected through a census. The fact that census responses are often completed by one member of a household poses a real barrier to disclosure for those who are not out about their sexual orientation or gender identity to their families. We have also urged the ONS to consult with trans people to ensure they have the best chance of getting the best quality data.
Our work with employers and service-providers has found that disclosure rates increase over time as members of the public become used to seeing these questions and understanding how the data is being used. We believe that including these questions within the 2021 census is an important part of normalising that process.