Sex question back on census The Times 24.01.21
The move is a setback for transgender rights advocates and follows a government decision to scrap plans to make it easier for people to “self-identify” their gender.
Draft guidance for the census allowed non-binary, transgender and intersex respondents to give an answer different from that on their birth certificate.
Sir Ian Diamond, who heads the government statistical service, said of the coming census: “The question on sex is very simply your legal sex.”
People in England and Wales will have to state the sex registered on a birth certificate or a gender recognition certificate, for those who have legally changed gender.
There will be a separate, voluntary question for those aged over 16 about their gender identity, which was welcomed by Nancy Kelley, chief executive of Stonewall, a pressure group for LGBT rights. She said: “It’s great that the 2021 census will include voluntary questions on sexual orientation and trans status for the first time. Collecting accurate population data on sexual orientation and trans status is vital to ensuring that organisations can develop services targeted to the needs of the LGBT population.”
Sir Ian’s statement follows intense behind-the-scenes discussions, and protests by a group of more than 80 academics who said: “Sex and gender identity are distinct and should not be conflated.” They feared the accuracy of studies into issues such as the gender pay gap could be affected. Alice Sullivan, professor of sociology at UCL (University College London), who co-ordinated the protest, welcomed Sir Ian’s statement, which came in an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme.
She said: “Sex is an important predictor of outcomes across all areas of life, including education, wages, crime, and physical and mental health. If we do not monitor sex differences, we cannot tackle sex discrimination.
“Gender identity is not the same thing as sex. Understanding people’s identities is important, especially at a time when increasing numbers of girls are identifying as trans or non-binary. But we cannot simply assume that the lives of these girls are not also affected by the fact that they are female.”
The Government Equalities Office tentatively estimated in 2018 that there were 200,000 to 500,000 transgender people. Only 4,910 had received a formal gender recognition certificate since they were introduced in 2004. Under the guidance operating in the last census, transgender or transsexual individuals were advised to select either male or female “whichever you believe is correct, irrespective of the details recorded on your birth certificate”. The census even permitted responses on behalf of third parties.
The ONS said: “We are continuing to ask a binary choice male/female sex question. This approach is unchanged since 1801. There will also be a new voluntary question on gender identity for people aged 16 and over later in the questionnaire.”