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guidance LGBT policy trans inclusion

Office for National Statistics withdraws from census guidance case; how best to respond


The census 2021 is a landmark opportunity for a meaningful snapshot to be recorded about the population of England and Wales. The data being gathered includes, for the first time, voluntary responses on gender identity. As an organisation, we would urge anyone who feels comfortable doing so to respond to the census in full so that we at Gendered Intelligence may know just how many trans and gender diverse people there are right now. From a data gathering point of view alone, it’s a worthwhile thing to do. We’re not exactly at emancipatory politics here, but it’s a good start to knowing how many people may need support from services such as ours and of course who may need access to gender healthcare.


The Census will continue asking only a binary sex question, meaning everyone has to answer with ‘male’ or ‘female’. From a data-gathering perspective, this will not help get meaningful figures of the entire population. On a human level, it forces non-binary people to perjure themselves through assigning their lived sex to a binary they are not part of, and should not have to pretend to be. Our advice to non-binary people, as unhappy as it makes us as an organisation to give, is to respond with whichever one feels closest to your understanding of your sex.

Following a recent court challenge brought against it, the ONS has amended its guidance advising trans people to respond to the obligatory sex question using the sex which appears on their documents “such as a birth certificate, gender recognition certificate, or passport”. The words “such as” and “or passport” no longer feature.


We’ve seen trans people been told online that their responding with their lived sex will somehow muddy the waters of data collection and that local trans-specific services will not then know how to direct their resources. To which we would ask: what local trans-specific services? We would need to have robust services in place across the country in the first instance in order for them to be so confused, but that, like so much of the ruminations about but not from trans people, isn’t something which exactly chimes with reality. Let’s get the figures first, then we can work out how they may translate to more and better provision for trans people across England and Wales. Let’s not pretend this is about concerns for our communities or about ensuring proper data collection.


At the heart of all of this, most people are unlikely to have needed the guidance to respond to the sex question in the first place. The guidance around using any identity document as proof may have been withdrawn, but this does not mean you should feel obliged to put down incorrect information. We will not be delegitimised and we will not lie. Give honest information which reflects the truth.