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We don’t know how large and diverse Australia’s LGBTIQ+ community is

Software development manager Jeanene Williams came out as a transgender woman later in life.
“It wasn’t until the Marriage Equality Act that I even had an idea that I would be accepted,” she said.
It’s been five years since same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia and three years since Ms Williams came out, and while she says she feels some sense of acceptance by the general public, the government still has no clear idea how many other people are. being LGBTIQ+ .
Released on Tuesday, it revealed key data on the countries of birth, languages, religions, income and health of people in Australia, but there are no national statistics on gender and sexuality as those data were not collected in the comprehensive survey.
A portrait photo of Jeanene Williams in a denim jacket.

Jeanene Williams is disappointed that the 2021 census did not include questions about sexuality and gender. Source: Delivered

While the most recent census was the first in Australia where respondents could select anything other than male or female as their gender by specifying ‘non-binary’ as the third option, there were no questions about how people identify.

The ABS said in 2019 that it made explicit recommendations to the then federal government on the topics “with the strongest arguments for inclusion in the 2021 census”, but continued: “the final selection of topics for inclusion in the 2021 census is a decision for the government”.


Ms Williams, who is based in Perth and also a member of the Australian Computer Society’s National Diversity and Inclusion Council, said she believed gender and sexuality should have been included in the information gathered in the most recent census. .
“I was extremely disappointed. I mean, it’s really missing a good opportunity not just to recognize people, but to actually figure out where we need support and what kind of support,” she said.

“It certainly means things to people, and it also means things to businesses and other different aspects of society to know this information.”

Attendees of the Sydney Mardi Gras parade holding a sign that reads 'Queer South Asians'.

Participants in the 2021 Sydney Mardi Gras Parade holding a sign that reads ‘Queer South Asians’. The 2021 census asked people in Australia where they were born and what languages ​​they speak, but not about their gender or sexuality. Source: MONKEYJoel Carrett

For Joe Ball, a better understanding of the collapse of the LGBTIQ+ community could help the nonprofit he leads better respond to community needs. Mr Ball is the Chief Executive Officer of St Kilda-based Switchboard, an organization that provides support services to LGBTIQ+ communities.

He is also a transgender and a self-proclaimed Census junkie.
Ball worked for the Australian Bureau of Statistics as part of the Census in 2011 and 2016. He said he had always been interested in the Census and as head of a service now understands the importance of the data being collected.

“We need evidence-based research and data to show us how to deliver the services we provide. And the Census represents a very important function, or it could be a very important function to create a baseline data set on which all studies and investigations can be based.”

Switchboard CEO Joe Ball holds an Australian Bureau of Statistics mug to his face.

Switchboard CEO Joe Ball says not asking about sexuality and gender means LGBTIQ+ communities can be left out of government response. Source: Delivered

Mr Ball said that as society moves forward, so should the way we analyze and measure society.

“We have come a long way in Australia towards the inclusion of LGBTIQ+ people in society; marriage equality is part of it, but there is also a birth certificate reform. We also allow same-sex adoption, we allow both parents regardless of their gender to be listed on birth certificates, we allow transgender people to change their birth certificate.
“Things have come a long way since the dark days of the criminalization of our sexuality, sex and gender, so the Census needs to match that,” he said.
“This week’s Census data confirmed to us what we knew during COVID, how bad mental health was. But not including the LGBTIQ+ data as a service provider, to me, means we’re staying out of that picture. And then, most terrifyingly, it runs the risk of being left out of the reaction.”

Things have come a long way since the dark days of the criminalization of our sexuality, sex and gender, so the Census needs to match that.

Joe Ball, Switchboard CEO and transgender man

Mr Ball said that while there were other surveys across Australia that captured the LGBTIQ+ community, the sample size was only a fraction of that of the Census, which provides a nationwide snapshot.
“We’re still too much in the dark,” he said.

Ball suggested the ABS develop a strategy for collecting LGBTIQ+ data, as he understands, with other segments of society deemed “hard to reach,” such as people who are homeless.

Non-binary gender data not disclosed

The ABS did not release any data on sex (of the male, female or non-binary demand) at the end of June, with its first tranche of data.
While the ABS said it will publish findings later in the year after consulting stakeholders in the LGBTIQ+ community to understand the complexity, data quality and usability of the data, Mr Ball said he believes the details were not released “because they messed up the question”.

Those who checked non-binary were able to include more information in an additional text box. Mr Ball said further thought needed to be given to the way the question was presented.

People dressed in different rainbow colors

People make the LGBTQIA+ Progress Flag on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. Source: MONKEYBianca De Marchic

“The second part of that question [non-binary and more details] would have fallen into that ‘hard-to-reach population’ because you had to raise the literacy of the question of how people would answer this question, including those from non-English speaking backgrounds, and they weren’t campaigning to make people aware of that question,” he said. .

“We can expect that demand will largely consist of unwanted data. It won’t be very helpful because people wouldn’t have understood the question either [or] would be concerned about it.

“For example, the way the questions are done, you have one household form and you fill in that form. There may have been people who didn’t feel like they could write it on their form due to a lack of acceptance in their household or personal security for themselves.


According to the ABS, where a respondent gave a male or female answer and a non-binary gender answer, the male or female answer was used to determine a value.
“Otherwise, gender was inferred using a random assignment statistical process,” details read from the ABS.

australiabusinessblog contacted the ABS about not including questions about sexuality and gender in the Census, but received no response.

In a statement previously released by the ABS on the subject, it said: “There are many considerations for including topics, including that there is limited capacity to add new topics without removing others from this important data set”.
Sexual orientation and gender identity topics were presented to the government to consider for inclusion, accompanied by information on known need, potential risk and potential data quality.

“In its advice to the government on these topics, the ABS noted that stakeholders are interested in collecting the data, as well as limitations in collecting this information.”


The ABS collects data on sexual orientation via a question in the National Survey on Mental Health and Well-being and questions on sexual orientation via the General Social Survey.
Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh, whose portfolio falls under the ABS, told australiabusinessblog News “the former government has not consulted Labor and has not consulted the LGBTIQ+ community adequately”.
LGBTIQ+ Australians seeking mental health support can contact QLife on 1800 184 527 or visit also has a list of support services.
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