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Historic Step Made Towards Counting All Rainbow Communities

The University of Waikato’s Transgender Health Research Lab strongly welcomes today’s announcement that the 2023 Census will collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2018, the Transgender Health Research Lab conducted New Zealand’s first comprehensive national survey of the health and wellbeing of trans and non-binary people living in Aotearoa / New Zealand.

“The survey’s title, Counting Ourselves, was deliberately chosen to reflect the frustration at the lack of official data about trans and non-binary people in Aotearoa”, said principal Investigator and University of Waikato Senior Lecturer Dr Jaimie Veale. “Statistics New Zealand wasn’t counting our communities, so we had to count ourselves.”

The Counting Ourselves report, published last September, found significant health inequities between trans and non-binary people and the general population, especially in the areas of mental health and wellbeing, and high rates of hardship, discrimination and violence against trans and non-binary people. These findings were based on responses from 1,178 survey trans and non-binary people from all around Aotearoa.

Rainbow community organisations spoke out strongly against the lack of sexual orientation or gender identity questions in the 2018 Census. They also criticised wording of another question that asked people “Are you male or female?” without including additional response options.

The Counting Ourselves survey explored trans and non-binary people’s responses to having to choose either male or female as their answer. Only a quarter (25%) of participants felt that those options were either “very much like me” (10%) or “mostly like me” (10%). More than half (51%) of Counting Ourselves participants said that the two possible options were “not like me at all” (32%) or “not very much like me” (19%). Almost one-in-five (17%) trans and non-binary participants said they did not fill out the 2018 Census – for many, this is likely to be because they did not have their gender reflected in this question.

“Trans and non-binary people said it was unclear whether the question was about the sex they were assigned at birth or their gender”, said Dr Veale. “Today’s announcement signals that everyone will be able to select the gender that matches who they are in the 2023 census. We are very hopeful this will be inclusive of all trans people, whether they identify as male, female, non-binary or as another gender”, said Dr Veale.

“Today’s announcement comes after decades of work done by rainbow communities and potentially makes a huge difference in measuring how well the human rights issues faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are being addressed”, said Counting Ourselves co-investigator Jack Byrne. “We also urge Statistics New Zealand to continue to work with intersex communities on how best to survey people with variations of sex characteristics, so their lives are counted in official statistics too.”

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