In this new mini-series, we meet some of the researchers who are delivering public engagement projects as part of the AHRC-ESRC joint fund ‘Engaging the Public in Census 2021’, which is run in partnership with the Office for National Statistics and the National Archives. In our third post, Dr Danielle Mackle from Queen’s University Belfast shares her experience of leading the project, Proud to Be Counted, which aims to encourage LGBTQ+ people to feel empowered to engage in the 2021 Census. This project is in partnership with two Northern Ireland-based organisations: The Rainbow Project which promotes the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people and HERe NI which supports lesbian and bisexual women and their families.
We were delighted when we received the news that we had been successful for AHRC funding to run a social media campaign to engage the LGBTQ+ community in the Census 2021. This is the first time that the Census has asked a question that relates to sexual orientation. There has not been any comprehensive or accurate national data on the numbers of people with an LGBTQ+ identity in the UK, yet research into the experiences of LGBTQ+ people show that they experience disproportionate levels of discrimination including but not limited to within health, education and employment. It is vital therefore, that government, policy makers and public sector agencies providing support and welfare services have accurate data in order to be able to address the inequalities facing the LGBTQ+ population and to inform the prioritisation of resource allocation.
We know how vital this data is but how were we going to get the message out there that capturing this information is so important? The Proud to be Counted project engaged with the LGBTQ+ sector organisations in Northern Ireland to develop a social media campaign specifically to target the LGBTQ+ community. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the value and indeed the importance of online work and engagement. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the LGBTQ+ sector in Northern Ireland had to move all of their work into the online environment. As a result of this, the LGBTQ+ sector organisations spent time setting up social network opportunities and assisting many people who weren’t confident using online platforms to become more technically aware. Therefore, we knew that this social media campaign could make an impact and was likely to reach a much larger audience than in pre-Covid times.
The response from the LGBTQ+ community was amazing! We had so many people contact us offering to share their reasons for being proud to be counted and we were able to compile some fabulous videos to share through the Proud to be Counted website, our social media platforms (Twitter; Facebook; Instagram), YouTube as well as through the social media platforms of our LGBTQ+ sector partners. The voices from our LGBTQ+ community were very powerful; some of the videos touched on the importance of government and service providers needing to know accurate numbers, some focused on the important fact that the Census is confidential, we had a video about how to access an individual response code for those people not ‘out’ at home and then we also had some videos highlighting people’s individual reasons for being proud to be counted. I have included some of the many quotes below that resonated with me personally and which have highlighted to me that there is still so much work to be done in terms of research, policy and practice to ensure a better quality of life and well-being for our LGBTQ+ children, young people, individuals and families:
“I am proud to be counted as our history is part of history and should be recorded like everyone else’s”.
“Our biggest enemy has been our invisibility and we have paid a high price for that, we weren’t catered for in terms of our schools, healthcare services etc. so now we have got a chance to change that. I am proud to be counted and I hope you will do the same. Stand up and be proud and be counted”.
“I am proud to be counted for my daughter, to normalise same-sex parents and families and to know that this is a possibility if you are a young person just coming out, that being a gay parent is a possibility. We are here, we are proud and so should you be”.
“I have waited three decades to be counted in the Census. Older gays need to be counted. Service providers think we don’t exist, I exist, and I am proud to be counted on March 21st.”
“I am proud that my parents are different, I love my family! We are proud to be counted.”
One of the disadvantages of the NI Census (unlike its counterparts in the rest of the UK) was that it did not pose a question about a person’s gender identity and this was very disappointing for our trans and non-binary siblings. We engaged with Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) who are running the NI Census 2021 to find out how to provide feedback on this issue. NISRA sent their engagement team along to two Census Information Sessions hosted by the LGBTQ+ sector in collaboration with the Proud to be Counted project and provided us with information to compile into a video about how to send feedback on the lack of gender identity question. We hope that this feedback will ensure the inclusion of this question in the next Census.
While we have come on a journey in terms of equality for the LGBTQ+ community, we still have a long way to go to ensure prejudice, discrimination and bias are removed from all levels of society including within our education, healthcare and employment sectors. This project has highlighted that there is much to be done in order to ensure a fair, safe and equal society for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity status. The Census 2021 will give us access to a much more accurate data on the numbers of LGBTQ+ people living in the UK and this will be a good start in terms of addressing the inequalities facing the LGBTQ+ population.
I too was proud to be counted on Census Day, to help reduce the invisibility of the LGBTQ+ community and in the hopes that our voices will make history and improve the quality of life and well-being for the next LGBTQ+ generations.
Dr Danielle Mackle is a Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast. Her research specialises in human rights and social justice in relation to LGBTQ+ communities.