The next official census could allow people to disclose their sexuality and self-identify their gender for the first time.
The new questions were revealed in draft guidance released by the Office for National Statistics ahead of it carrying out a “rehearsal” next month for the 2021 census in four local authorities in England and Wales – Carlisle, Ceredigion, Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
Under the guidance, residents who are aged 16 or over would be asked a voluntary question about the term that “best describes” their sexuality out of straight or heterosexual; gay or lesbian; bisexual; or “other sexual orientation”, such as queer, asexual or pansexual.
There will also be a further optional question for respondents aged 16 or over allowing them to self-identify their gender, which would make it the first time that the census for England and Wales has asked a question on the topic of gender identity.
Participants will be asked: “Is your gender the same as the sex you were registered at birth?”
They will then be able to answer “yes” or “no”, with those who have answered with the latter given an optional written box where they can describe their gender identity, such as if they are intersex, transgender or non-binary.
Non-binary campaigner and filmmaker Owl told PinkNews that the question would help meet the requirements of trans and intersex people where they differ from the rest of the population.
“In terms of statistics, it’s important that transgender people – including non-binary people – and intersex people are specifically recorded, both in terms of general population statistics and in health care,” they said.
“The experiences and needs of transgender people and intersex people might be different to the general population and having statistics that reflect that is important.
“Therefore allowing people to list that their gender or sex is different to what they were assigned at birth is a great way to give trans people and intersex people the agency of having their identities and realities heard in statistics.”
The United Kingdom census is held every ten years, with the last one being carried out in 2011.
Data for England and Wales is provided by the ONS, while two separate bodies carry out surveys in Scotland and Northern Ireland – the General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency – before the results are collated together.
In terms of statistics, it’s important that transgender people – including non-binary people – and intersex people are specifically recorded.
Fox Fisher, a trans rights campaigner and filmmaker, who is non-binary, told PinkNews that the draft guidance was a move in the right direction.
“I think this is a great step in acknowledging that transgender people and intersex people have specific realities and experiences, and allowing them to decide what best fits for them is important so that statistics aren’t skewed,” they said.
“Right now, non-binary and intersex people in particular have no ways of being recorded in statistics, and allowing everyone to be able to do that, in a way that reflects who they truly are, is in fact correcting statistics that have been skewed up until this point.
“It will allow us to get a bigger depth of society and what needs these groups might have that are unique, but also the same as others.”
However, another trans rights campaigner, Sarah Brown, has said that the question “needs more thought” because transgender people who have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) are also re-issued with a birth certificate confirming their true gender.
“It’s asking if what’s on your birth certificate is different to your gender,” she said.
“As a trans woman with a GRC, my birth certificate says female.”
A spokesperson from ONS told PinkNews: “The traditional sex question, which has been asked in the Census since 1801, are you female or male, will remain the same.
“As in 2011, guidance which a wide range of stakeholders have helped develop, will be available to assist those who are unsure of how to answer the sex question, including those who are trans or whose gender differs from their sex registered at birth.
“For the 2021 Census, for the first time, an additional voluntary question on gender identity has also been proposed for those aged 16 and over.”
The guidance stated that the new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity will allow “charities, organisations, and local and central government to understand what services people might need”.
It added that the information would also be used to monitor equality between people of different sexualities and gender identities, which it said “helps make sure that everyone is treated fairly”.
According to the guidance, the rehearsal will allow the ONS to the systems and processes it has put in place ahead of the official 2021 census for England and Wales, which will be digitised also for the first time.