“1.5% UK are gay” – an underestimate!

Sitting on the train on Saturday, I picked up “The Metro”, one the London free papers, and began a mindless browse, until an article entitled “Just 1.5% of British population are gay or bisexual” caught my eye. Having just come from a 50th birthday party of a gay friend of mine, I decided to look deeper into it. It read:-

The proportion, which amounts to almost 750,000 adults, is far lower than previous estimates.

In 2005, the government’s first assessment suggested that one in 16 – or about 3.6million – Britons were homosexual.

But yesterday the Office for National Statistics included figures on the gay and bisexual community in its new household survey.

Gay charities insisted the true homosexual population was higher.

The survey of 450,000 people found 94.8 per cent of adults – 94.6 per cent of men and 94.9 per cent of women – said they were straight.

It found 1.3 per cent of men were gay and 0.6 per cent of women were lesbian, while 0.3 per cent of men and 0.7 per cent of women were bisexual.

Ben Summerskill of gay charity Stonewall, welcomed the figures but added: ‘Data collection happened on doorsteps or over the phone, which may deter people from giving accurate responses – particularly if someone isn’t openly gay.’

Not only was I surprised at the low numbers quoted, I was also taken aback by the comment from Stonewall that they welcomed the figures. Surely they would know that, for some reason, this figure is unlikely to be accurate. Surely it should be more like 5% than 1.5%.

It is essential for the development of a fair and equitable society that the when statistics are quoted from research undertaken, particularly from reputable and unbiased sources, that they really reflect the true picture.

Having read the report from the Office of National Statistics, which is available at http://www.statistics.gov.uk/articles/nojournal/measuring-sexual-identity-report.pdf I have no reason to question their findings, except that my instinct tells me it is an underestimate that needs further examination.

Often there are statistical misrepresentations ( not this time), it gives the tabloid and reactionary media an opportunity to get excited. Perhaps on this occasion the data collection process, which evidently did not go to every home in the country, provided a skewed sample group or maybe some of those questioned did not come out to their researcher.

So, if you ever get questioned in a future survey, make sure you stand up to be counted! Let’s make sure the facts are right!

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About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in discrimination, Equality & Diversity, Prejudice, Sexuality equality, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to “1.5% UK are gay” – an underestimate!

  1. KB says:

    The demographics of sexual orientation are notoriously hard to pin down. People have proven resistant to the style and nature of research or survey questions that ask about intimate details of life and identity — things that are often more complex than tixboxes allow for.

    This latest survey was deeply flawed. Surveys that query one person in a household (as this one did) are incredibly inaccurate when used to make policy about individuals: for instance, in my household, there is one straight partner and one bisexual partner — depending on who answered the questions on the survey, our household would be variously deemed a ‘straight’ or ‘gay/LGBT’ household using the methods of this latest government survey. Ridiculous. Also, how the questions are phrased and in what order you are asked to tick boxes has been shown to vastly change the results.

    The sad part is that now, ultra-conservative and regressive voices in our cutlure will be clammoring to use this flawed data to roll back advances in human rights for all citizens.

  2. KB says:

    … I suppose it must also be reinforced that when you add the 1.5% of people who said on this survey that they were gay, lesbian or bisexual to those who said they were ‘other’ + ‘undecided’ + ‘did not know’ (i.e., either not-straight or not-saying), you would interestingly get right back up to the 5-6% mark that has long been used as standard.

    • equalityedge says:

      Thanks for these additional comment.

      It is up to those of us that care about the human rights issues to ensure no voices are allowd to use this data for their own ends. The rights of all must be upheld. Perhaps the Office for Natinal Statistics should have added some explanation about their collection method.

  3. Wayne Heatherington says:

    Self report survey are notoriously open to bias even when conducted by an organisation as illustrious as the ONS and especially on a subject such as sexuality. Though we may live in more enlightened times than Margaret Thatcher’s era of Section 28 and all that there are still many reasons why individuals may chose not to disclose their sexuality even anonymously including stereotyping and prejudice, internalised homophobia and shame, and pressure from a heteronormative world to live a certain kind of life. Moreover such surveys cannot fully account for shades of grey, individuals’ sexuality and attitude towards it cannot always be reduced to a label.

    Despite the problems with monitoring sexuality I do however feel it has value. Recently I have been applying for jobs and have found the equal opportunities forms I am requested to fill in an increasing source of annoyance. While ethnicity, gender and disability are routinely covered sexual orientation is not. One university stated that positive action measures are taken in an attempt to overcome underrespresentation wrt to ethnic diversity and disability. However by not monitoring sexuality it means that data is unlikely to be available regarding representativeness with respect to sexual orientation. I do accept that this would first require an answer to the question: ‘What is representative?’, which takes us back full circle to the need for surveys and monitoring. Without monitoring the risk is that we end up with a situation that positive action is taken for some disadvantaged groups and not others. I accept this is not an easy nut to crack even organisations have the very best of intentions.

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