This year's UK census will be the first to recognise LGBTQ+ communities by asking two new voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Carried out every 10 years since 1801 – with the exception of 1941 – the census aims to provide an accurate estimate of all people and households living in England and Wales.
Run by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the last census took place in March 2011. It included 56 questions relating to age, relationship status, national identity, ethnic group, educational qualifications, job titles, method of travelling to work and health status.
By including questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time, the 2021 census will offer a more accurate picture of how many LGBTQ+ people live in each local community – as well as the country as a whole. This information should, in time, help local authorities to better meet the needs of their LGBTQ+ population.
“While there are estimates of sexual orientation at a national and regional level, it is not possible to produce robust estimates for all local authorities – that’s what census data will give," the ONS's Ian Bell said. "And there is no robust data available on gender identity at all. These data are needed by local authorities and service providers to inform the provision of services."
The new questions will be voluntary, so nobody will be forced to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity if they don't wish to. People will also be able to request an individual census questionnaire if they'd prefer to give their answers separately from other members of their household.
The 2021 census will take place on Sunday, 21st March, and will be mostly conducted online. The results will be published in 2022.
The news was welcomed by Nancy Kelley of Stonewall, who called the 2021 census "a historic moment for LGBT+ communities" which "will give us an accurate picture of the size and make-up of the LGBT+ population in Britain".
"For far too long, our community has been a hidden population," she said in a statement. "Collecting this vital data will ensure researchers, policymakers, service providers and community organisations are able to understand the needs of LGBT+ people and develop tailored services to help us be treated fairly and achieve our potential."
She added: "Now we need to make sure all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in England and Wales feel confident and supported to fill in the Census on 21 March."