‘All of us count’ is an unofficial slogan for the Aotearoa Census - and in 2023 it feels true for the Rainbow community who will get to be officially counted for the first time.

Everyone in Aotearoa is asked to answer questions about themselves and their households every five years on Census Day. 

This year’s Census is taking place on March 7 and in a major first, Statistics New Zealand is collecting information on gender and sexual identity.

Census and Collection Operations deputy chief executive Simon Mason says these questions will allow LGBTQIA+ people to be better represented.

“We don’t currently have accurate information about Rainbow populations and there’s no current population level data on different groups within the Rainbow community,” Mason says.

He says the Census needed to evolve to include this community.

“We are always looking at ways we can represent people in the data better to help people make decisions using the data that’s collected.”

Collecting data about how many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people (and everyone in between) we have in Aotearoa is going to be a game-changer for the community, Mason says. 

By having accurate data, the needs of the Rainbow community can be better understood and responded to.

“It will really help Government and Government services to look at the data and understand how to meet those needs,” he says.

A big and important process

New Census questions are rare, as a heap of work goes into formulating them. 

These new questions involved extensive public consultation, input from Government agencies, and consultation with international peers, like the UK, which asked gender questions in its most recent Census.

“It was a really inclusive process,” Mason says. “Individuals and groups in the Rainbow community gave feedback and we took it all into account. We also tested the content after we’d devised the questions.”

Mason says there’s a lot of science behind each Census question.

“We have to get every word almost perfect so that you’re not predetermining an outcome and forcing someone to answer a question in a particular way or not making a mistake where someone could misinterpret the question. A lot of work goes into it.”

So what will happen on Census Day?

While everyone is asked to complete the Census on or before March 7, only people aged 15 and older will be asked a question on sexual identity and whether they were born with a variation of sex characteristics.

A text box allows people to share their identities if they’re not covered by the terms straight or heterosexual, gay or lesbian, and bisexual. You can also choose the “prefer not to say” option.

All answers in the free form text box will be assessed and grouped together. When that representative group is big enough, they become part of our statistics. So, we may soon know just how many asexual or pansexual people there are in Aotearoa, too.

A question on variation of sex characteristics, otherwise known as intersex variation, will also offer important information to support the intersex community.

Protecting people’s privacy

The Census team knows there might be concerns about privacy given the nature of the gender and sexuality questions, but Mason says the information is carefully kept secure.

“The data is heavily protected not only by law but by security we place upon it. It is not personally identifiable,” he says.

“The questions we’re asking, particularly around sexual identity, are very personal and we understand that.”

And if you do your census online, your family won’t be able to see your answers once you have submitted the form.

The importance of taking part

While some parts of the country will have to wait a bit longer to take part in this year’s Census due to damage to regions following Cyclone Gabrielle, Statistics New Zealand is urging everyone to do their bit when they can.

The Census is a way of “talking to the Government”, Mason says, so there’s great hope the Rainbow community will use that opportunity.

“We really want people in the Rainbow community to be counted. We know that many individuals and community groups have a strong interest in seeing that data and seeing that it better reflects who they are.

“It’s very important that the Census represents everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

This content was sponsored by Statistics NZ. You can find out more about this year’s Census  at census.govt.nz

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