Europe

The census is set to include gender and sexuality questions, but why only now?

There has always been a lack of research about people like me.

I knew when I was quite young that I was trans, even if I wasn’t able to articulate it properly until in my late teens.

So growing up, I felt as though I couldn’t fully express myself.

Sitting in a sociology or history class at school only made me feel more invisible, because of the sheer lack of information about people from diverse backgrounds. 

Between the various slurs and being called a ‘p***y’ or ‘p**f’ by other kids, the only time I saw a glimpse of people who were transgender was in a book in science class.  

Being transgender was listed as a mental disorder and a picture of a ‘patient’ was displayed, in the most objectifying way possible – a medical picture of a trans woman who was on hormones, showing various parts of her body that were changing.

She wasn’t a person being shown, rather than a body to gander at with fascination, or disgust. Charming, isn’t it?

It’s safe to say that didn’t help me come to terms with who I was. But a lot has changed since then.

Today we have more research that informs people about the challenges transgender people face in society. Unfortunately it’s all pretty bleak. 

According to research by Stonewall UK, more than two in five transgender people avoid certain public streets out of fear of harassment – and with good reason. Hate crimes against trans people have risen by 25% since last year in the UK, and quadrupled in the past five years, according to BBC LGBT correspondent Ben Hunte.  

As someone who has been publicly out for over a decade, the UK is becoming an increasingly hostile place. Anti-trans rhetoric has become commonplace in the media, fuelling further discrimination and stigma towards people like me.  

This is why further research is needed, and I was therefore happy to see the government announce this week that they were finally asking (voluntary) questions about gender identity and sexual orientation in their national census survey.  

They’ll be asking people what their sexual orientation is, what their sex/gender is, and whether it is the same one assigned at birth. This allows them to collect data on people who are transgender, if they wish to share it. 

While it’s a step in the right direction, it’s also unbelievable that this is only happening now, in 2020. Why has it not been done sooner? 

Data on such a scale is important for many reasons. It allows us to get a bigger picture about the queer population in this country, and can enable us to delve deeper into the systematic and social challenges facing us.

The trans community has been pointing out for decades fundamental issues in how they are treated in UK society, socially, legally and within health care

It will help us inform policy and be the basis of further research that will hopefully emphasise why it’s so important to support all queer people. Data like the national census will help amplify our voices if used effectively.

There are some current population estimates that suggest queer people make up anywhere between 1-10% of the population (depending on what groups you’re looking at under the queer umbrella), but it’s still always tricky to quantify as some people will not want to share they are queer, or have not come out openly. 

But population numbers are important to be able to create policies and provide services with the right amount of people in mind.

But it’s also important that people know what this data is being used for, as many distrust the government for various reasons – a sentiment I certainly share.  

The trans community has been pointing out for decades fundamental issues in how they are treated in UK society, socially, legally and within health care.

Currently, many trans people have had to wait several years for a single appointment at a gender identity clinic, causing their mental and physical well-being to suffer tremendously as a result. The lack of progress on issues like this has left many queer people feeling like they are not a priority.

This is also a country that has a dark history of treating queer people badly, with enactment of laws such as Section 28, which banned talking about queer issues in school, and the current ongoing trans debate that constantly paints us people as a threat to society.

I can only hope that the census will help the UK fight the serious level of disinformation and foster understanding, empathy and a willingness to do the right thing.

This means taking meaningful steps into making sure health care is more readily accessible, ensuring people can live their lives freely, and combating stigma, bullying and discrimination adequately.  

The UK needs to start listening to the voices of queer people across this country, allowing their lived realities and experiences to inform policy and change.

Only then can we truly make a difference for people so that kids today don’t grow up feeling ashamed of who they are. 

At least, starting next year, we will have accurate data to help us achieve this.

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