The Central Statistics Office has revealed it is trialling a question on sexual orientation for possible inclusion in the 2026 census.
The question, which asks participants whether they identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual, is now being tested for the first time as part of the CSO’s quarterly national household survey. A spokeswoman for the CSO has acknowledged the sensitivity of the proposed question, and expressed her organisation’s intent to find the right wording before considering its inclusion in the census.
“It is a question that requires full testing to get it right,” she says. “We’ll start to have the first results from that later in the year and they will feed into discussions about what questions will be included in the 2026 census. It wouldn’t be included until then.”
Ireland’s national census is conducted every five years. The next is in 2021, but consultations on its content are already complete.
The move to include a question on sexual identity comes after a report by intergovernmental economic organisation the OECD, titled ‘Society At A Glance,’ called on member states to introduce questions on sexual and gender identity in their censuses in order to tackle discrimination.
The report says that “Making LGBT individuals and the penalties they face visible in national statistics is a prerequisite for their inclusion.” It highlights the link between LGBT+ rights and gender equality, arguing that acceptance of LGBT+ people will “improve gender equality broadly speaking and hence expand social and economic roles, especially for women.”
Drawing on national surveys other than the census, the report states that roughly 2% of the Irish population self-identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Data on numbers of transgender people “remain scarce” across the 36 member states, it says.
2% may seem a small figure, but the report emphasises that the numbers of people disclosing their LGBT+ identities “is consistently on the rise.” With acceptance of LGBT+ identities increasing in younger generations, more and more people – especially the young – feel safe in disclosing their identities.
“In the United States for instance only 1.4 per cent of people born before 1945 consider themselves LGBT, against 8.2 per cent among millennials (born between 1980 and 1999),” says the report.
According to the OECD, discomfort around transgender identities remains “pervasive” and “slightly higher than discomfort with LGB people,” across member states. The report finds that only 49% of people in Ireland would accept a transgender child, and that acceptance of a male-to-female trans child would be especially unlikely. Trans identities were found to cause particular discomfort when discovered within the family – people who would not accept a trans child were more likely to tolerate a trans colleague or politician.
Until people in Ireland feel comfortable enough to accept and disclose their identities, statistics on the numbers of LGBT+ in this country cannot be entirely accurate. Nonetheless, the possible inclusion of a question on sexual orientation in the 2026 census promises a degree of visibility for LGBT+ minorities.
The NXF, Ireland’s National LGBT+ Federation, has expressed support for the proposed question. “Regardless of what percentage LGBT people constitute, equality is not a game of numbers,” they said on Twitter. “However, this much welcome move by @CSOIreland would held in tailoring needs & services for our community and we strongly support it.”
Regardless of what percentage LGBT people constitute, equality is not a game of numbers. However, this much welcome move by @CSOIreland would help in tailoring needs & services for our community and we strongly support it. https://t.co/D2Njr3wxk1
— NXF (@nxfie) April 4, 2019
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