Queer statistics

24 September 2010

So the Office for National Statistics has released data suggesting that almost three-quarters of a million UK adults say they are gay, lesbian or bisexual – equivalent to 1.5% of the population: 480,000 (1%) consider themselves gay or lesbian, and 245,000 (0.5%) bisexual. London is home to the highest concentration of gay people at 2.2% of the population, while this proportion falls to 0.9% in Northern Ireland.

Of course it’s easy to look at that data and conclude it is much lower than the most commonly used estimate of 5% to 7%, which was cited by ministers introducing civil partnership legislation and implied a non-heterosexual population of 3.5 million.

It was data that surprised me. And it’s data that is – I believe – is being misrepresented as wholly accurate. Here’s some reasons why:

  • All the survey’s statistics are considered experimental, or in a testing phase, as they have not yet been assessed by the UK Statistics Authority.
  • Only people aged 16 and over were questioned about their self-perceived sexual identity – a large proportion missing when you consider that their age profile is also much younger than the rest of the population.
  • People were asked to respond with one of four options: heterosexual/straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual or other. It’s not always appropriate to apply a label with boundaries to yourself. If Stephen Fry would label himself as just 90% gay how could he tick a survey box explaining he fits into one of those four exclusionary categories?
  • Many homosexual people would not be happy to admit to a stranger that they are gay, or bisexual. Sexuality remains deeply taboo to many people.
  • Many gay or bisexual people may be in a heterosexual relationship (maybe married) and not want to admit their sexuality.
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I Love Man

18 August 2009

So I’m on a train now, returning already from the Isle of Man. I was, after all, only there for a wedding on Saturday (which I must say was an amazing and stunning affair).

It’s a very beautiful Island. Part British seaside-town (Douglas, at least), part Celtic and mildly irish it is a fascinating combination of cultures.

It is a self-governing Crown dependency and the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann, but is not Monarch. It is neither part of the UK, nor the EU. But foreign relations and defence are the responsibility of the government of the United Kingdom. The Island is inhabited by about 80,000 people, and it’s approximately 32 miles (51 km) long and between 8 miles (13 km) and 15 miles (24 km) wide, and has an area of around 221 square miles (570 km2). A passport issued on the Isle of Man says “British Islands – Isle of Man” on the cover but the nationality status stated on the passport is “British Citizen”. Despite this, because the Island doesn’t have membership of the EU you do not have the same rights as non Mann British citizens. It’s complex huh!

Yet one of our taxi drivers spent 25 minutes ranting rabidly about those foreigners coming over and taking their jobs. Not me, mind you “those non-whites” he said, although quickly clarified “non Islanders, I mean” – like who? – “you know, those Asians, and the Eastern Bloc, those Bulgarians”. It was like having a taped version of the Daily Mail played on a loop for the journey down country roads where at any point he could have pulled over and stabbed the two gays in the back of his car (!) He even blamed “the British Government” for selling the Isle of Man down the swanny.

The Parliament of the United Kingdom has paramount power to legislate for the Isle of Man on all matters but it is a long-standing convention that it does not do so on domestic (‘insular’) matters without Tynwald’s [the Manx parliament] consent. Apparently, the Isle of Man has had several disputes with the European Court of Human Rights because it was late to change its laws concerning corporal punishment and sodomy. The Isle of Man was once known to be rather homophobic, and gay sex has only been legal since 1992. More recently the age of consent was equalised – in 2006.

Despite the fact that whenever I said the name of the Island I tripped over my own words accidentally saying I Love Man, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to grow up as a young gay man on the island. Even on our short trip, the hotel “double (not twin) room please” scenario and looks and [rather blatant] stares made me an uncomfortable gay outsider. I’ve obviously been to worse places (Warsaw, pár example, or gay pride in Galway where a man outside the bar wielding a rather large kitchen knife forced us to lock ourselves in), but provincial attitudes aren’t really my scene.

It reminded me on some ways of my growing up in small-town midlands. My home town is about the same size. But I could escape easily. Half an hour on the train to Birmingham allowed me, growing up, to get out of the town which could at times feel choking. Small town middle England isn’t for me. But on the Isle of Man (OK the landmass is significant, but there are still only 80,000 people) it’s not as easy to escape. There are no 30 minute train rides: it’s a 3 or 5 hours ferry ride to England.

I’ll try to post some of the amazing pictures when I have a moment. If I have a moment. I’m off to Bristol for work then to Copenhagen and Stockholm for a holiday this week. Right now, though, I just want to get home and to bed.


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