Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

2021 census recognises the LGBT community for first time

This year’s census is making history as it asks questions about LGBT identities for the first time. Here’s everything you need to know.

LGBT flag
Quote Catalog

On 21 March, households in England and Wales will fill in the 2021 census, which helps the government, as well as local authorities and charities, to understand the demographics of an area. This can help with local planning and enables the effective provision of transport, healthcare and education.

This year, for the first time, those responding to the census will be asked questions on their gender identity and sexual orientation. This historic change will help us to better understand what proportion of the population is LGBTQI+.

A statement signed by Sheffield charity SAYiT, along with other LGBT charities, welcomed the change: “The inclusion of these questions represents a rare and valuable opportunity to ensure that LGBT communities are counted, which could have a significant impact on future support and recognition from government and public bodies and services.

“A lack of data makes it harder to recognise and respond to the needs of LGBT communities, and makes it easier to downplay persistent LGBT inequalities.”

Mandy Holden, Census Engagement Manager for West Sheffield, agrees: “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.

"Census outputs will help organisations combat inequalities these groups face and show where services are needed.”

Although filling in the census is compulsory, certain questions – including those on gender identity and sexual orientation – are voluntary, so those who do not feel comfortable answering can avoid doing so.

What if you are not 'out' to your household?

There will be a significant number of people who are LGBTQI+ but have not come out to the person in the household who is filling out the census, be that a parent, a landlord or a housemate.These people can request an individual access code so that they can fill in the answers truthfully. The individual access code lets you override the answers of the person in your household who fills in the census but keeps your responses confidential.

What about the ‘sex’ question?

There has been some controversy over guidance introduced over ten years ago that directed people to answer what sex they were according to either their birth certificate, a Gender Recognition Certificate or passport.

A “sex in the census” campaign expressed concern that this would somehow dilute the meaning of the responses and took the ONS to court, where this week it was ruled that only sex on a birth certificate or a Gender Recognition Certificate would count, ruling out any possibility of self-identifying.

Many in the LGBT community oppose this move, given that passports are official documents; if they can reflect a person’s true gender, so should the census a person fills in. This could leave trans and non-binary people who have not gone through the onerous process of getting a Gender Recognition Certificate with no option but to misgender themselves when answering this binary question.

Holden explains that “in line with the court’s order to grant interim relief, the ONS has amended the guidance to advise respondents to use sex as recorded on a birth certificate or gender recognition certificate.”

A judicial review next week will rule on whether the ONS guidance was legal.

Is the census confidential?

The census is completely confidential for 100 years and only generalised, demographic information will be released until then, with nothing that can identify any individual or household.

Given how radical it feels to be able to answer questions on sexuality and gender identity for the first time, filling in the census and knowing that that information will be private means that many LGBTQI+ people will feel officially recognised for the first time. There may still be some under-reporting, but this could be the closest we get to official statistical recognition.

Learn more

The Census should be filled in on Sunday 21 March or soon after. It will take around 10 minutes to complete and you will need your 16-digit access code, sent to you in the post.

Filed under: 

More Equality & Social Justice

More Equality & Social Justice