Census 2021: a legal, hateful, victory

EdinburghEye on Ko-FiThis was first posted on Facebook on 9th March 2021, with support from my Ko-Fi network.

Scotland decided to put off the Census til next year, because of coronavirus: the England & Wales Office of National Statistics decided to go ahead (as did the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency). ONS decided this year to encourage people to do the census online by preference – and to do a soft launch on 22nd February, to avoid (I would presume) the awkward situation of fifty-eight million people all trying to use the census website at the same time.

Census2021So, as you certainly know if you live in England or Wales or Northern ireland, and as you probably know if you live in Scotland, 21st March 2021 is Census Day except for Scotland.

Since about July 2019, the Christian Right have been complaining about news that the Census this year, at least in England and Wales, was going to include a question about “gender identity” and – not that this was new – have guidance that trans people should respond to the sex question according to their gender identity.

On the Christian Institute website on 24th July 2019, Rod Badams wrote:

“Firstly, its inclusion in a process as official as the national census gives gender identity — a recent, ill-defined and contested concept – a credibility which many will think is unjustified.
“Secondly, the proposed wording of the question allows respondents to base their answers on self-perception, rather than anything factual.”

One of the oldest anti-trans groups in the UK, a group which has (according to ICANN data) possibly owned its domain name since 27th September 2016, is Fair Play For Women. They describe themselves as “began in 2017 as a small, informal women’s discussion group concerned about the impact of transgender policy” and the bio on their twitter feed says “A campaign and consultancy organisation”.

(Incidentally, they had to delete every single tweet on their account prior to July 2018, because Pink News found and published some particularly nasty transphobic tweets from 2017, after they “crowdfunded” to pay for a full page ad in the Metro explaining how awful Gender Recognition Act reform would be. The Metro had justified their acceptance of the ad on the grounds that the group wasn’t a transphobic hate group, just “raising awareness of the government’s consultation”.)

I note that online crowdfunding to an organisation not a political party nor a registered charity nor a limited company, is a delightfully anonymous method of ensuring that funds get to the causes you may want to support, without your being officially linked to them.

Prolife groups in the UK receive oddly large sums for their work, and no one has been able to prove that money comes from the US Christian Right, though it’s known Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Heritage Foundation,and other hate groups with wealthy founders and donors, like to support what they regard as their work overseas. Anti-trans groups in the UK also receive oddly large sums for their work, which do not correspond to the amounts UK feminist groups are able to raise. When asked, anti-trans groups claim their money comes from supporters in the UK keen to defend “women’s sex-based rights” – but who are evidently not keen to defend abortion, women fleeing domestic violence and abusive relationships, survivors of sexual violence, 50/50 representation in Parliament: only anti-trans actions.

What the original plan was for trans people responding to the 2021 census in England and Wales, was to tell them (as guidance had been written for 20 years) to answer the sex question according to their gender identity, and then to offer a later gender-identity question, optional like the sexual-orientation question. In this way, the ONS census would for the first time, establish a baseline minimum number for LGBT people in England and Wales.

This, I suspect, was the true offence to the anti-trans movement. The faux-feminist groups that couch their offence a pretence that affording trans people common courtesy and humanity is somehow an attack on women, argued that if trans people responded accurately to the sex question (that is, trans women responding F, trans men responding M) this would mean that the national statistics would be distorted and not allow proper calculation of services.

We don’t know what the actual number of trans people in the UK is. But, as anti-trans activists are very fond of shouting about trans people in prison, let’s look at some known stats, slanted according to their own bias.

In 2020, there were 77.42 thousand men in prison in England and Wales. In 2019, there were 163 transgender prisoners in jails in England and Wales, 129 of them in men’s prisons and 34 in women’s prisons. Presuming, as anti-trans activists like to do, all 163 are trans women, that would make them (as anti-trans activists would like to count them) about 0.21% – and as anti-trans activists like to claim that trans women commit the type of crimes cis men do, and as frequently, it would follow that anti-trans activists accept that trans women have to be less than a quarter of 1% of the population.

And such numbers as those are simply not sufficient to seriously distort any information about the UK population used in the provision of public services.

But attacks on trans people by the Christian Right, and their followers, are never fact based. As we know. Anti-trans activists are very fond of talking up the increase of trans people between now and a decade ago – while avoiding actual numbers. Saying “an increase of 400%!” sounds much more impressive than saying “ten years ago it was 8: now it’s 32”.

Taking part in the Census is not supposed to be an exercise in humiliation or discouragement. Whether or not a trans person has a GRC, she or he knows which gender to answer to the sex question – and it would be absurd, as the ONS had evidently concluded well before the recent rise in the anti-trans movement, to tell a woman she must fill in the Census form with “Anne Cordelia” as her legal name, and then note that once, long ago, the medical staff and her parents had identified her as a male.

Fair Play For Women “crowdfunded” £100,000, hired a Q.C., and this afternoon in the High Court, Sir Jonathan Swift ruled that the ONS had to change their guidance and require everyone to use the gender specified on their birth certificate to answer the sex question. ONS pointed out that about 20% of the expected responses had come in already, and Justice Swift apparently said he couldn’t believe that. ONS asked for a judicial review, and this was granted for next week. The guidance on the ONS webside has already been changed.

Census 2021 timeline

If the judicial review doesn’t succeed, trans people in England and Wales who have not already completed the census before this afternoon, will be supposed to enter not their lived gender in the sex question, but to dive back into their past and pretend themselves still to be the gender they know they are not.

I have seen online discussions among trans people about the Census plans – about whether they should risk responding honestly to the Gender Identity question, since it would positively identify them in the Census servers, making them easily locatable if the tide turned badly enough. This was before this court decision, which – if followed – requires trans people to make themselves mostly even more identifiable, if they’ve already changed their name (the court case didn’t require everyone to enter the name on their birth certificate) – whether or not they choose to answer the Gender Identity question.

Or, as I fully expect, most trans people will now opt to answer the sex question honestly – that is, a trans woman will answer F, a trans man will answer M – and then not answer the gender identity question at all. Each census form is filled in privately – no one fact-checks it: what the anti-trans activists have achieved, unless the judicial review reverses their victory, is to ensure the 2021 Census doesn’t accurately provide any record of trans people in the UK.

(No, technically, this doesn’t apply in Scotland. But the National Records, while not legally obliged to keep the Scottish Census on all fours with the England and Wales census, do try to keep the data compatible. If the sex/gender-identity questions just catastrophically don’t work in England and Wales, they very likely won’t be tried in Scotland.)

OUTRAGE - Stuff Section 28Section 28 became law in 1989. The Pink Paper headlined its passing on the front page: The day our rights died. This law was not repealed til 2000 – or 2003 in England and Wales. Section 28, “protecting” children against the awful reality that lesbian and gay people exist, arose out of the Christian Right campaign “Save Our Children” from the 1970s.

I do believe we’ll win – in the end: because we have science and truth and justice and kindness on our side, and they do not, and also because these are older bitter people fighting hard against the awful truth that their children and grandchildren see nothing wrong with being LGBT: but this will not be the last time our enemies achieve a legal, hateful, victory.

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Filed under Justice, LGBT Equality, Politics, Women

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