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Why the 2021 Census LGBTQ+ numbers are wrong

24 Feb 2024 3 minute read
The 2021 Census

Norena Shopland

Every ten years, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) conducts a mandatory census to provide a detailed snapshot of UK society. In 2021, for the first-time, voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity were included.

The census data published in 2023, showed that of the 67.33 million UK population, 59.5 million aged over 16 completed the survey and that 2.7% identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) (the census was undertaken later in Scotland and the results will be published in phases during 2024).

Those who reported their gender identity was different to their sex registered at birth, accounted for 0.5%.

However, things are not that simple.

Alfred C. Kinsey

Counting people with diverse sexual orientations has been attempted since 1948 when American sexologist, Alfred C. Kinsey co-authored a book entitled Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male, followed in 1953 by Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female, collectively known as the Kinsey Reports.

Together, they sold nearly a million copies, were translated in 13 languages, and are now associated with a change in public perception of sexuality. They are considered some of the most successful and influential scientific books of the 20th century.

The counting was done using a scale from 0-6, when 0 was ‘exclusively heterosexual’ and 6 being ‘exclusively homosexual.’ X was added in 1953 for those who were asexual.

The reports concluded that 37% of males and 20% of females had at least some homosexual experiences, but the methodology used to obtain these figures was deeply flawed. Researchers tested predominantly criminals and prostitutes, and the results are now discounted.


Nevertheless, this type of measuring has been modernised and continues to be used by some, such as the commercial public opinion and data company YouGov, who used a similar method in 2015 to poll 1,632 UK people over 16 and found ‘1 in 2 young people say they are not 100% heterosexual.’

Elsewhere, consistent figures from other polls have averaged between 6-10% of the population being LGBTQ+ but few organisations publish methodologies with a consequent reluctance, by some, to accept these figures.

Due to this fluctuating data, the UK Government decided to include questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in the 2021 Census and the results were widely splashed about the media.

What is rarely discussed however, are the difficulties in how this information is collected. For example, who fills in the form? In families intolerant of sexual and gender diversity, individuals may not be out, or the person completing the form may deliberately exclude the information.


A separate form was available, but it is questionable how many knew of this option and took it up.

Some individuals were not comfortable revealing such information, while others feared they would somehow be found out.

Other problems exist – for those in hospital the form filler was probably not aware of their patient’s personal details and if we extend that to hotels, prisons, care homes, the military, and other mass accommodations, we can see the problems rising.

Indeed, in their own beta testing of the 2021 Census, the ONS found that regarding these questions: the “Prefer not to say” option had the highest response to the survey (34.8%).

Accurate counting of LGBTQ+ people in the UK would be useful, but we’re not there yet.

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Owain Glyndŵr
Owain Glyndŵr
4 months ago

I think it’s fair to say that 5-10% is probably an underestimate of the LGBT+ figures in the UK, but I wouldn’t care to guess what the real figures are. I think accurate estimates will go hand in hand with acceptance of diverse sexuality in more socially Conservative communities, which while improving has a long way to go.

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