England and Wales count LGBTQ people in census for first time


While South Africa falls behind, more countries are starting to count their LGBTIQ+ citizens as part of their national census.

For the first time, England and Wales asked people aged 16 years and over about their sexual orientation and gender identity in the 2021 census.

The results have now been released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and they reveal that 1.5 million people (3.2% of the population) identified with an LGB+ orientation (“Gay or Lesbian,” “Bisexual” or “Other sexual orientation”).

The census found that 748,000 people (1.5%) described themselves as gay or lesbian, 624,000 (1.3%) described themselves as bisexual and 165,000 (0.3%) selected “Other sexual orientation”.

People were also asked about their gender identity, with 262,000 people (0.5% of the population) saying that their gender identity was different from their sex registered at birth.

Of these, 118,000 (0.24%) said their gender identity did not match their sex registered at birth but did not provide a written response while 48,000 (0.10%) identified as a trans man, 48,000 (0.10%) identified as a trans woman, 30,000 (0.06%) identified as non-binary, and 18,000 (0.04%) wrote in a different gender identity.

“Having these first census estimates about the population [of England and Wales] in relation to gender identity, as well as sexual orientation at a local level, is crucial,” said ONS Director Jen Woolford.

“They will ensure decision-makers have the best information so they can better understand the extent and nature of disadvantage which people may be experiencing in terms of educational outcomes, health, employment, and housing,” Woolford explained.

Nancy Kelley, the Chief Executive of LGBTIQ+ rights group Stonewall told the Guardian: “For the past two centuries of data gathering through our national census, LGBTQ+ people have been invisible, with the stories of our communities, our diversity, and our lives missing from the national record.”

She added that the census results “finally paint an accurate picture of the diverse ‘Rainbow Britain’ that we now live in, where more and more of us are proud to be who we are”.

More countries are starting to recognise the importance and value of counting their LGBTIQ+ population. Last year, Canada became the first country to provide census data on transgender and non-binary people. In 2019, Kenya became the first country in Africa to collect data on intersex people in its national census.

Despite a constitution outlawing LGBTIQ+ discrimination, South Africa, has yet to catch up. In February 2022, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) was slammed for not including any questions about sexual orientation or gender identity in that year’s census.

Officials admitted they were unprepared and said they needed more time to research and pilot how to be LGBTIQ-inclusive. They promised “the inclusion of this group in the next census”, but this is likely to only take place in the next decade.

This unacceptable exclusion, whether deliberate or an incompetent blunder, was seen as a lost opportunity for the government and other stakeholders to better understand the country’s LGBTIQ+ community to better plan and allocate resources to meet its needs.

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