#LGBTsurvey: things that surprised me

In July 2017, the Government Equalities Office launched the national LGBT survey. I was part of the team that helped create the survey and the LGBT Action Plan that followed it. Now, I’m taking stock of what has been a significant piece of work that I was proud to be a part of.

Other blog posts in this series

  1. #LGBTsurvey: why it's important
  2. #LGBTsurvey: things that didn't surprise me

The national LGBT survey contained more than 100 questions, and the final analysis report runs to more than 400 pages. Hundreds of data tables were produced as part of the analysis.

In this blog post, and in no particular order, I’m going to pick out some of the things that surprised me from the final results: either because they challenged my preconceptions, didn’t chime with my own life experience, or just because I found them interesting.

1. Demographics

In general, the respondents younger respondents were more likely to identify as bisexual, asexual, pansexual or queer, than they were as gay or lesbian. This was surprising because it didn’t chime with my own perceptions of the LGBT population. The well trodden meme now is that LGBT spaces are dominated by cisgender, gay, white men. These results showed that, perhaps, this might be about to change.

Also interesting to me we’re that 13% of respondents identified as trans, and that non-binary people accounted for more than half of this number (6.9% of respondents identified as non-binary). I was expecting far fewer non-binary respondents as a proportion; again linked to the afore mentioned trope.

2. Life satisfaction

The survey asked respondents how they felt about their lives nowadays, on a scale of 1 to 10. I had expected the responses of respondents to be generally worse than the general population, but I hadn’t expected quite as much disparity as appeared in the results.

Whilst the general population say their lives are — on average — 7.7 out of 10, gay and lesbian respondents to the survey said their lives were about 6.9 out of 10. Trans respondents reported much worse life satisfaction though; trans men rated their lives at just 5.1 out of 10.

3. Hate incidents

As someone that has been on the receiving end of hate incidents, I expected a high rate of non-reporting amongst respondents. The survey was trying to understand why respondents didn’t report, more than whether they reported it.

That said, I wasn’t expecting non-reporting of hate incidents to be quite as high as it was. 9 in 10 respondents did not report the most serious hate incident they had experienced in the 12 months prior to the survey. This rate of non-reporting is far higher than that suggested by official statistics; but it’s also possible that these figures are skewed, as it was an online-only survey completed by a self-selecting sample.

4. Conversion therapy

So-called conversion therapies are attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These practices are — by their nature — hard to spot and are rarely overt.

I personally hadn’t expected a high response to the survey’s questions about whether respondents had undertaken or been offered conversion therapies. Many people — myself amongst them — were surprised that lots of respondents said they had. Around 2% of respondents said they had undergone these therapies, and a further 5% had been offered conversion therapy but hadn’t undertaken it.

5. Incidents in education

The survey asked about incidents in education, and unsurprisingly, many respondents said they had experienced some issues because they were LGBT during education in the last 12 months. The evidence base more broadly indicates that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is fairy widespread, though it is seemingly decreasing.

What was shocking were the perpetrators. Whilst you might expect perpetrators to be other pupils and students, the survey found that 9% of the most serious incidents were allegedly committed by “teaching staff”. It’s unexpected because (for me at least) teachers have an explicit duty of care to all pupils.

6. Sexual health services

Many of the findings in relation to healthcare were fairly negative; in particular about access to mental health services. Sexual health services, conversely, were rated very positively. 87% of respondents who had accessed sexual health services in the 12 months prior to the survey reported a positive experience.

I’ve only ever had a positive experience with sexual health services myself; but I was surprised to find that was the norm amongst many of my LGBT peers.

7. Sexual orientation monitoring in healthcare

Monitoring is an important tool that service providers can use to understand the needs of the people they serve. 46% of cisgender respondents said they had not discussed their sexual orientation with healthcare staff during the 12 months prior to the survey.

What’s surprising to me is that this number is so low, given that monitoring of sexual orientation isn’t very commonplace in general, let alone in health contexts.

8. Openness at home and at work

An interesting difference I spotted that I hadn’t been expecting was between respondent’s willingness to be out at home and how that differs from at work. 24% of respondents weren’t open about being LGBT with any family members, compared to only 19% who weren’t open about being LGBT with people at work.

That suggests respondents are more comfortable coming out to colleagues than to family, by a fairly substantial margin. Perhaps that’s not surprising contextually, but the differences were intriguing to me.