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Warning on trans identification in 2021 census

February 2020

Professor Alice Sullivan
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More than eighty experts have written an open letter to the Government and the Office for National Statistics, warning against allowing people to pick their own gender on the 2021 census.

The letter from academics, published first in The Sunday Times and picked up by other publications, such as the Daily Mail, stated that allowing people to self-identify their gender on next year’s census will make it unreliable as an official record.

The census takes place every 10 years and is an attempt to accurately analyse the nature of the UK population.

Regardless of whether people might change their mind over time about whether they wish to identify as male or female or non-binary, the academics said the questions of sex and gender identity were distinct from one another, and should not be conflated.

They are concerned the results would affect the overall accuracy of studies into health and earning disparities between men and women, for example.

The letter came as the ONS offered to let people decide whether they are listed as male or female. It will continue to ask whether people define themselves as male or female, but the guidance also says the answer the individual can give can be different from that on their birth certificate.

This would mean respondents could answer according to their own subjective identification rather the reality of their biological sex.

One signatory, Professor Alice Sullivan, who is a professor of sociology at University College London, relies on accurate census data for the 1970 British Cohort Study, which she heads. This tracks the lives of 17,000 people born in the same week in that year.

Prof. Sullivan told reporters that it was crucial for academics to have the correct data on men and women for reasons including the collation of crime statistics, and said it was a ‘great shame’ that a ‘chilling climate’ was shutting down debate on transgender issues.

Many signatories did not wish to disclose their names, for fear of being targeted by trans activists claiming the academics were being transphobic, rather than simply stating statistical facts.

The letter read, ‘The guidance will effectively transform the longstanding sex question into a question about gender identity’.

Other proposals set out by the ONS suggested adding a voluntary question on the subject of gender identities for people aged 16 and older. The ONS claimed the guidance it is following is similar to what it followed in 2011.

However, the academics pointed out the census authorities admitted not knowing how the 2011 guidance affected the data collected that year.