LGBTIQ advocates are frustrated yet another Australian Census won’t ask about sexual orientation and gender identity, keeping queer communities largely invisible.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics runs the national Census every five years. This year’s official Census night is on Tuesday, August 10. Forms are now hitting mailboxes across Australia.
The Census’ national population data is vital for governments and advocacy groups to make decisions on funding of services.
But still not included are questions about sexual orientation or gender identity.
Deputy Australian Statistician Teresa Dickinson told the Sydney Morning Herald a sexual orientation question was on an ABS shortlist of eight new questions to explore.
“We investigated it in quite some detail,” Dickinson said.
“And in the end, the government makes the decisions on what goes onto the census rather than the ABS.
“The government was appraised of the pros and cons of putting those questions on, and they made their choice.”
We don’t know the true size of Australia’s queer populations
LGBTIQ+ Health Australia CEO Nicky Bath says such data is badly needed.
“We still don’t know how many people in Australia are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or otherwise sexuality or gender diverse,” Bath said.
Instead, organisations have to estimate the number from smaller surveys and studies.
“We need the data to demonstrate the case for targeted funding and policy,” Bath said.
“From the available research, our communities experience disproportionate rates of illness, especially mental illness.
“The majority of these adverse health outcomes are directly related to the stigma, prejudice and abuse experienced for being part of LGBTIQ+ communities.”
This is compounded, Bath explains, when queer people are “uncounted and under-counted when services are planned and funding allocated.”
LGBTIQ+ Health Australia led a years-long campaign with over 140 groups to get the questions into the Census.
But last year the federal government finalised the 2021 questions, leaving out those on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.
Instead, Bath said, the 2021 Census includes a “poorly-framed” and “confusing” question on “non-binary sex”.
“‘Non-binary’ does not adequately account for people born with intersex variations,” she said.
“For trans and gender diverse people, ‘non-binary’ is about gender not a response to the ‘sex’ question.
She warned the question won’t provide “any useful or adequate demographic data about LGBTIQ+ populations.”
“It will at best be meaningless,” she said.
“At worst it is an opening for some to trivialise and stigmatise some of the most disadvantaged members of our communities.”
Australia should follow UK with LGBTIQ Census questions
Lobby group Just.Equal has called for supporters to sign a new declaration slamming the decision.
“[It] makes LGBTIQ+ people invisible and makes it harder to address their needs, including the provision of health services,” the group says.
The group’s declaration calls for the next Census, in 2026, to have the questions. Numerous Australian LGBTIQ groups have signed in support.
LGBTIQ+ Health Australia says we should follow other countries who are moving towards collecting such data.
In March 2021, the United Kingdom asked its population about sexual orientation and gender identity in its Census for the first time.
The United States and Canada are also taking similar steps.
Bath said in January 2020, the ABS did finalise a standard set of questions on sexual orientation, sex, gender, and sex characteristics.
“These questions are now being implemented across other ABS surveys and in some other data collection,” she said.
She said LHA wants the questions used widely from now on, and adopted in the next Census in 2026.
Equality Australia chief executive Anna Brown said the Census data is vital to meet LGBTIQ+ communities’ needs.
“It’s absolutely vital that we collect data on our communities,” she said.
“Because otherwise the government can’t plan our programs and services that meet our needs.
“Unless we’re counted, we’re invisible.”