COSS Network Statement: Supporting the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status in the 2021 Census

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has recently identified non-binary sex and/or gender identity and sexual orientation among eight new and existing topics to be considered for further testing and potential inclusion in the 2021 Census of Population and Housing (the Census).

As Australia’s official statistical organisation, the ABS aspires to be a high quality, objective, and responsive national statistical service that strives for data excellence. The Census allows us to understand the cultural, economic and social diversity of our communities, providing information about the population across small geographic areas and long-time trends in key aspects of the lives of Australians. Census data underpins government funding and informs government decisions in a range of areas, including healthcare and social services planning.

The current exclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status questions in the Census means that clear demographic data of the Australian population is not being captured.

A number of national health and wellbeing policies, strategies and programs rightly identify LGBTI people as a priority population for action. This is due to the ongoing significant health and wellbeing disparities experienced across LGBTI communities. This includes for example disproportionate rates of mental health diagnoses, suicidal behaviours, as well as elevated rates of drug and alcohol use and a significantly higher cancer burden. Discrimination and stigma have a negative impact on accessing high quality and culturally safe community and residential services, for example in aged care, domestic and family violence, homelessness and disability.

Asking questions on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in the Census is crucial in fostering an evidence-informed environment for health and economic policy service planning and understanding health and social service utilisation. This is essential in addressing the health needs that LGBTI people experience.

There is a strong shift internationally towards collecting this data. Scotland and Northern Ireland are considering a sexual orientation for their 2021 Census. Further, the Office for National Statistics in the UK are recommending the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity questions in the 2021 Census in England and Wales, after their testing showed it would be acceptable to the population and will deliver good-quality data with minimal effect on overall response and respondent burden. The United States and Canada are also currently taking steps to achieve accurate population counts for LGBTI people in their Censuses.

Australia has a unique opportunity to provide statistical leadership in the collection, production and analysis of data for LGBTI populations. The inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in the 2021 Census will promote scientific excellence and data integrity. This will have an enormous impact on improving social cohesion and the health outcomes of LGBTI people and communities.

We, the undersigned, place on the public record our support for the appropriate collection of data on sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status of the Australian population in the 2021 Census.