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.