Lavendar Islands Survey
SUNDAY 8th AUGUST 2004
“New Zealanders who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual have no problem with a sexual orientation question in the census”
Last year Statistics New Zealand decided that a question on sexual orientation would not be added to the census in 2006. Recent findings by Dr Mark Henrickson from the Lavender Islands Project should dispel fears from Statistics New Zealand, suggests sexuality and HIV researcher Peter Saxton.
According to the Lavender Islands results, 87% of gay, lesbian and bisexual (glb) respondents stated that they would answer a question on sexual orientation accurately if posed in the New Zealand census. Just 5% stated that they would not answer it, with 6% stating they would prefer to tick a “decline to state” option if it were available, and 2% stating they would answer a sexual orientation question, but not accurately (i.e they would most likely tick “heterosexual”).
Saxton is not a member of the Lavender Islands team but is investigating ways of improving information on the gay male population in New Zealand as part of his doctoral research at the SHORE Centre, Massey University.
Saxton notes that Statistics New Zealand had explored the acceptability of a sexual orientation question last year after receiving submissions into the 2006 Census content. Statistics New Zealand commissioned focus group work from UMR Research and decided that resistance among certain non-glb groups was sufficient to prevent a sexual orientation question being added to the census for 2006.
Many glb participants in the UMR focus group were comfortable with the idea of reporting their sexual orientation, provided the information would be helpful for their communities and the information was kept anonymous and confidential.
“Understandably, Statistics New Zealand have been concerned that glb New Zealanders would see a sexual orientation question as being too personal and not a relevant item to ask in the context of a census.” Says Saxton.
Dr Henrickson’s Lavender Islands survey was the first time however that a large cross-section of New Zealanders who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual have been asked about census.
“The Lavender Islands result suggests that in the new millennium most New Zealanders who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are in fact happy to disclose their sexual orientation to census.”
Saxton argues there are two main reasons why a question on sexual orientation is needed in the census.
“First, the census is the benchmark source of information on any minority group’s basic demographic characteristics – for example area of residence, age, education, ethnicity, income. The census also provides information on families, households, and work. Everyone from policy makers, to social service providers, councils and local communities finds census information valuable in the work that they do for target populations such as the aged, ethnic minorities, women and so forth, but it is not currently available for gay, lesbian and bisexual communities. Simply put, if census is useful for other groups in society, then it will also be useful for glb communities and those who provide services to them.”
“Second, academic and health researchers need to know more about gay, lesbian and bisexual New Zealanders if they are to survey these groups scientifically. Currently no-one is totally sure whether a survey that samples a small number of glb is representative of all glb New Zealanders, because we have no way of knowing whether we’re missing glb people in Gisborne for example, or we should have more who are aged over 60 in our samples. This makes it harder to properly evaluate the impact of health or economic policies on glb communities.”
Saxton predicts that if a census question went ahead, initially the numbers of glb individuals who disclose their sexual orientation in census may be lower than their actual prevalence in the total population. This has raised some concerns as it would ironically understate the level of social services required to meet these communities’ needs. However, Saxton replies that:
“Over time the numbers should increase as confidence in the confidentiality of census increases. In the 1980s, even un-married heterosexual cohabitation was under-reported in census due to the perceived stigma at the time that question was introduced, but gradually people got over it.”
Peter Saxton The Centre for Social & Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation (SHORE) Te Runanga, Wananga, Hauora me te Paekaka Massey University Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Ph: 09 3666 136 Direct Dial: 09 414 0800 ext 41342 Mobile: 025 604 1930 PO Box 6137, Wellesley Street Auckland, New Zealand