5 important reasons for LGBT+ people to take part in the census

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The census is an opportunity for LGBT+ people to stand up and be counted. (Envato)

There’s still time to stand up and be counted in Census 2021.

This month, households across England and Wales will have received a letter from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) with a unique code allowing them to fill out the census online. Census day was officially on Sunday, 21 March, but those who haven’t yet responded can still do so.

Census 2021 is asking new, voluntary questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Here are five reasons why it’s especially important for LGBT+ community to complete the census this year, and make history while doing it.

1. The census will count the LGBT+ community for the first time

The England and Wales census is collecting information on LGBT+ demographics through two brand-new questions.

The census includes a mandatory question on sex, as it has done for the last 200 years. This requires an answer of “female” or “male”. For 2021, this is joined by a question on gender identity, giving a space for trans people to specify their gender in their own words.

There is also a question on sexual orientation, which asks people to tick one of the following boxes: “straight or heterosexual”, “gay or lesbian”, “bisexual”, “other sexual orientation”. There is a space provided to write in any orientation that doesn’t appear on the form, such as pansexual or asexual.

Both the gender identity and sexual orientation questions are voluntary and for people aged 16 and over. Together, the two questions will provide accurate data on the number of queer people living in England and Wales.

2. The census helps shape government decisions about our lives

The information collected by the census is vital in painting a picture of England and Wales’ population. Census data helps inform local and central governments about the people they serve, and to make decisions based on demographics.

By filling out the census, LGBT+ people can make sure that their needs – whether in terms of health, education, employment or housing – are heard and taken into account by those making decisions for the next 10 years and beyond.

3. The census helps to provide services the LGBT+ community desperately needs

As well as the government and other policy-makers, there are many other stakeholders that use census data when planning vital services, many of which the LGBT+ community has a particular need for. 

Many charities use census data to understand where they are most needed. For example, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) used data from the 2011 census to map out London’s most at-risk boroughs, as well as to assess risk levels based on factors such as age, sex and ethnicity.

Once Census 2021 data is released, charities like MHF will be able to access specific information on gender identity and sexual orientation, and will be able to serve the LGBT+ community better.

4. The ONS takes privacy seriously, especially for LGBT+ people who are not yet out of the closet

Members of the LGBT+ community, especially those who are still in the closet, may understandably feel nervous about providing information on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Although the ONS provides one digital access code per household, anyone is able to request an individual one so that they can be counted without outing themselves. No other member of the household will be informed that an individual code has been requested.

Census director Nicola Tyson-Payne told PinkNews: “We were very conscious that there might be people within households who maybe aren’t ready to share that information just yet, and for those people, they can contact us either on the website or they can give us a call, and we can send them a code that will allow them to do an individual response.”

All information provided in the census is protected by law, and individuals will not be identifiable from any published statistics. Census records remain confidential and closed to the public for 100 years.

5. Filling out the census is required by law

Filling out the census has huge benefits for all residents of England and Wales, especially the LGBT+ community, but it is also required by law.

All households in England and Wales are required to complete the census to reflect their household circumstances.

If a household fails to complete the census, it will be visited by a field officer who will encourage residents to fill it in. This year, field officers will wear PPE, maintain social distancing and will not enter people’s homes.

Those found guilty of refusing to complete the census, or of intentionally filling it out with incorrect information, face a maximum fine of £1,000 and a criminal record.


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