LGBTIQ advocates warn of ‘garbage data’ from latest Census


teddy cook auspath census abs australian bureau of statistics non-binary sex gender sexuality
Images: Supplied, Australian Bureau of Statistics

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has vowed to consult with LGBTIQ advocates after a poorly-worded Census question has likely produced “misleading” and “inaccurate” data.

The ABS is in charge of the national Census, surveying every Australian every five years. On Tuesday (June 28), the ABS is releasing the first round of data from the 2021 Census.

Last year, Australians got a new “non-binary” option when asked to identify their sex in the Census.

But LGBTIQ advocates warn the question is poorly-worded and will dramatically underrepresent both intersex and gender diverse populations. They argue the confusing question has likely produced inaccurate and useless data.

Just.Equal Australia’s Rodney Croome said a “non-binary sex” question was a “useless hybrid”. It conflates people who are transgender and intersex as well as those who identify as gender non-binary, he said.

“Many transgender people would have ticked male or female,” Croome told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“People with a non-binary gender identity would have wondered if ‘non-binary sex’ applied to them. And many intersex people would also have found it confusing.”

As a result Croome warned against the ABS releasing that data this week.

“My fear is that the number of people who ticked ‘non-binary’ will be very low and this will be weaponised by opponents of transgender equality and inclusion,” he said.

Teddy Cook (pictured above) is a board member of the Australian Professional Association for Transgender Health.

Cook said while the ABS was well-intentioned, last year’s “non-binary sex” question would produce “inaccurate data that’s highly likely to mislead”.

“Our community wants to be known and seen. But it’s impossible to drill down into data this inaccurate,” Cook said.

ABS to consult on ‘non-binary sex’ responses

An ABS spokesperson said the Bureau wouldn’t include data on non-binary sex in the first release on Tuesday.

“The data collected from the sex question will be reported in the 2021 census data releases as ‘Male’ and ‘Female’,” they said.

“Where a respondent provided a male or female response and a non-binary sex response, the male or female response was used to determine a value.

“Otherwise, sex was derived using a statistical process of random allocation.

“Later this year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics will be doing more analysis on non-binary sex responses.

“[The ABS] will be working in consultation with key stakeholders in the LGBTQI+ community to understand the complexities, data quality and usefulness of the data.

“At this time, the ABS will be publishing our findings and looking ahead to the next Census.”

Tasmanian man Roen Meijers identifies as gender non-binary. Meijers was the first person in Tasmania to have something other than male or female listed on their birth certificate.

Meijers told the Herald the confusing “non-binary sex” question would lead to “garbage data”.

“I’m very well-educated on questions of gender and sexuality and I had no idea how they wanted me to answer that question,” Meijers said.

No questions on sexuality or gender identity in 2021 Census

The 2021 Census did not include any specific questions on whether people identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans or gender diverse.

LGBTIQ advocates said Australia’s queer communities remain largely invisible as a result.

They argue they badly need the accurate data for the allocation of funding for community-specific services.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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