Australia's census night is on 10 August. Find out how the 2020 ABS Standards can be used to improve data collection for LGBTIQ+ communities.
Recorded live by LGBTIQ+ Health Australia on Monday 2 August 2021, the below webinar features information about the 2021 census and the 2020 ABS Standards.
Two guest speakers from the ABS discuss the importance of the census, and how the 2020 ABS Standards can be used to improve data collection for LGBTIQ+ communities. This webinar also includes information on action that you can take to influence change for the 2026 census.
Caroline Deans, (she/her), ABS Director of Census Content Review, will explain what the 2021 census will collect and what will happen to the information you provide.
Caroline is the ABS Director responsible for releasing data from the 2021 Census. She led the consultation, assessment and recommendation process for adding topics to the Census and worked closely with stakeholders including LGBTIQ+ Health Australia.
Nicole Capper (she/her), Household Characteristics & Social Reporting | Indigenous and Social Information Branch | Australian Bureau of Statistics
2021 Census FAQ
What is the census?
Every five years, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) counts every person and household in Australia. The census form asks questions to provide a snapshot of the social, cultural and economic make-up of our country. The next census is Tuesday 10 August 2021.
Why is the census important?
Governments, business and community organisations use the census to develop services based on evidence and need. LHA uses census information to argue for better targeted funding and policy that improves the health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ+ communities and individuals.
Why are LGBTIQ+ people concerned about the 2021 census?
The Australian Government set the 2021 census without questions that provide an adequate picture of Australia’s LGBTIQ+ populations—sexual orientation, gender identity and variations in sex characteristics.
In 2019 and 2020, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia led a strong campaign to include these questions in the 2021 census. 140 organisations signed up with expertise spanning across mental health, suicide prevention, social services, disability, aged care, family violence, human rights and research.
There is an international shift to collect this data. In March 2021, the United Kingdom became the first country to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity in its census. Scotland will include questions in 2022, and the United States and Canada are taking similar steps.
Without these questions LGBTIQ+ people are invisible and there is inadequate data for healthcare planning. LGBTIQ+ Australians face significant health and wellbeing disparities compared to other Australians.
What does the census ask about sex?
The 2021 census asks only for your sex based on chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs. The options for the question are incorrect and will be confusing for many people.
You will be able to state if you are ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘non-binary sex’. If you select ‘non-binary sex’, you will be able to provide further optional information to describe your specific circumstances. If you select ‘non-binary sex’ you will also be able to select ‘male’ or ‘female’.
Why the concern about the ‘Sex’ question in the 2021 census?
The ‘non-binary sex’ option will be difficult to answer for many people:
- ‘Non-binary’ does not account for people with variations in sex characteristics.
- ‘Non-binary’ is not used how trans and gender diverse people understand the term—which is a response for a gender question (not sex).
- The question will not provide useful or adequate demographic data about LGBTIQ+ populations.
- As occurred with the 2016 census, the results may be misrepresented as an accurate count of trans and gender diverse communities.
This question will not provide useful or adequate demographic data about LGBTIQ+ populations. LHA believes that data on the ‘non-binary sex’ option should not be used or reported.
If the ‘Sex’ question is a problem, how should I answer it?
Follow the guidance on the census form and answer the question as best for your circumstances. Answering in any other way may lead to your response being disregarded or potentially make the data less accurate.
How do I let the government know my concerns?
Here are some actions you can take:
- Put a note on your census form: After you've submitted your Census online, there is an option to provide general feedback. You can add a message here about LGBTIQ+ people not being counted.
- Sign a petition and contact your federal Member of Parliament (MP): You can sign Equality Australia’s petition here.
- Organisations can add their support and individuals can sign this Declaration which will be presented to the Government, the Opposition, Parliament and the Australian Bureau of Statistics before Census Day.
- Join the formal consultation: A process will begin in 2022 for the next census. Become an LHA member and we will keep you informed.
What should the 2026 census ask?
In January 2020, the ABS completed work on a standard set of four questions that LHA supports for collecting demographic data on our LGBTIQ+ communities:
- Sex: typically based upon the sex characteristics observed and recorded at birth or infancy.
- Gender: current gender, can be different to sex recorded at birth, including non-binary.
- Variations of sex characteristics: innate genetic, hormonal or physical sex characteristics that do not conform to medical norms for female or male bodies.
- Sexual orientation: including lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual or other terms.
LHA’s FAQ on ‘The Standard for Sex, Gender, Variations of Sex Characteristics and Sexual Orientation Variables, 2020’ is available here.
Technical information is available here.
LHA will continue campaigning, knowing that it can take years to get a new question added to the census. There is strong and growing support for change and most importantly a clear need for this data.
Where can I get support?
If this issue raises concerns for you, you can get help by contacting QLife between 3pm and midnight every day:
- Phone: 1800 184 527
- Webchat: https://qlife.org.au/resources/chat
- Referral Directory: https://qlife.org.au/resources/directory