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Britain’s census to ask questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time

Josh Milton October 18, 2020
Pride non-binary

Pride in London, 2017 (David Nash / Barcroft Media via Getty)

The census in Britain will, for the very first time, ask questions on the public’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

With the last census taken in 2011, the sprawling procedure has long provided pollsters and policy-makers a baseline portrait to use when crafting surveys or analysing results.

The Office for National Statistics, the agency responsible for producing data sets crucial for central and local authorities, said the once-a-decade census will provide one of the clearest insights into LGBT+ demographics.

“Without robust data on the size of the LGBT+ population at a national and local level, decision-makers are operating in a vacuum, unaware of the extent and nature of disadvantage which LGBT+ people may be experiencing in terms of health, educational outcomes, employment and housing,” Iain Bell, the ONS deputy national statistician, told the Observer.

It comes after population polls conducted by the ONS in 2018 released this year found that around one in 50 Britons identify as LGB.

Census asking about LGBT+ lives ‘a vital step’ towards acceptance, says top queer rights charity. 

The census is just as crucial as the surveys done by public and private pollsters, as well as academic statisticians, in basing demographic presumptions. But for decades, pollsters and decision-makers have relied on estimations when it comes to LGBT+ Britons.

“There is no robust data available on gender identity at all,” Bell said. “These data are needed by local authorities and service providers.”

The 2021 census across England and Wales by the ONS, as well as a separate poll conducted in Scotland in the spring, will fill in this gap – a move hailed by Stonewall chiefs as a “vital step”.

“Historically, lesbian, gay, bi and trans people have been a hidden population in the UK, and this lack of visibility has damaged our ability to secure the rights and the support our communities need,” said Nancy Kelley, the charity’s chief executive.

“That’s why we’re really pleased the government will be asking voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in the 2021 census.

“Gathering data on LGBT communities in the UK is a vital step towards building a society where LGBT people are truly accepted, everywhere and by everyone.”

Census-takers will be required to tick “female” or “male” in response to the question: “What is your sex?” A note will alert them to a later question on gender identity.

“Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?” it will say.

ONS sources said that the body “confident but not complacent” that the census would go ahead on 21 March.

More: Britain, England, gender identity, LGBT, ONS, Scotland, Wales

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