A proposal to include a question on sexuality in the next UK-wide census has been backed by trade unionists and the Green party, but caused confusion among some people.

A senior researcher who is an expert on LGBT issues told PinkNews.co.uk that any question must focus on sexual identity and not orientation.

The academic, who asked not to be named, explained:

“Some have put forward the argument that such a question involved someone’s private sexual behaviour or ‘a private life.’

“In fact being a gay man, as opposed to being a ‘man who has sex with men’ is all about being public.

“Sexual identity is concerned not with people’s sex lives but with their identity. That is why the phrase “sexual orientation” is troublesome.”

Gay equality organisation Stonewall yesterday joined forces with the Trades Union Congress to ask for questions on sexual orientation to form part of the census.

The next national survey will take place in 2011. It is conducted every 10 years by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and every household in the UK is legally required to fill out a census form.

On the issue of sexual identity vs. orientation, a Stonewall spokesperson told PinkNews.co.uk:

“National Statistics uses the term sexual identity to describe its work in this area, and Stonewall is fine with that.

“We are more interested in ensuring that good robust data is collected in the census on lesbian and gay people, so organisations such as health trusts and police forces can deliver good services to the community.”

The lack of a question on the census has led to other social research organisations to exclude questions on sexual identity, often citing the lack of a standardised question.

Most noticeably, the British Crime Survey fails to ask respondents about their sexual orientation, despite government and police initiatives around homophobic crime.

At present, the question about religion is optional and it is thought that a question on sexual identity would most likely also not be compulsory.

It has already been confirmed that there will be an option to record civil partnership alongside marriage on the 2011 census.

Today the Green party called for gender identity to feature in the census.

“We will make these concerns strongly to the ONS in our lobbying,” said LGBT Greens spokesman Phelim Mac Cafferty.

The UK would be the first country in the world to include a question about sexuality on its census.

Information about individuals collected from the census is secret for 100 years and only the aggregate statistics are published.

Final decisions on the content of the 2011 census will not be made until the consultation and testing programme is complete and Parliament gives formal approval in 2010.

A White Paper setting out the Government’s proposals is scheduled for the autumn.

Last month it was revealed that just one in 100 people described themselves as gay in a government survey into British sexuality.

A further one in 100 describe themselves as bisexual, 0.6 per cent said “other” and three per cent say they were not willing to declare their sexuality to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Some failed to to answer the question properly; responses included: “female”, “normal”, “not active” and “I am OK with my sexuality.”

The Office of National Statistics asked 4,000 people but admitted that the results of the survey were “not a reliable estimate” of the gay population.