Australians will now be able to select “non-binary sex” as an option for the question about sex recorded at birth in the 2021 Census. For the first time, the census will make available the “non-binary sex” option. This announcement comes as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) published new standards for the collection and dissemination of data relating to sex, gender, variations of sex characteristics and sexual orientation.

While the 2021 Census will still not have an option to enter information about sexual orientation, people will be given three options for the sex question – Male, Female and Non-Binary Sex. 

Non-Binary Sex Option

The ABS has recommended that a write-in facility should be made available if the ‘Non-binary sex’ option is selected. Those selecting this option should also have the opportunity to select ‘Male’ or ‘Female’, the ABS said.

In the 2016 census, the question about sex had three options – Male, Female and Other. The ‘Other’ option was selected by only 1,260 people.

“This count is not considered to be an accurate count, due to limitations around the special procedures and willingness or opportunity to report as sex and/or gender diverse. People who have been treated with disrespect, abuse and discrimination because of their sex or gender may be unwilling to reveal their sex in an official document,” the ABS had said

 The ABS’s new guidelines for collecting information have been framed in its Standard for Sex, Gender, Variations of Sex Characteristics and Sexual Orientation Variables, 2020.

The recommendations say interviewers should not assume the sex or gender of the person and to use inclusive language like ‘they’ or ‘their’ instead of  ‘he/she’ or ‘his/her’. Further, the distinction between sex recorded at birth and gender would also have to be explained and the information collected separately. 

“The Guidelines provide guidance to Australian Government departments and agencies to ensure that appropriate options are provided to individuals who may identify and be recognised within the community as a gender other than the sex they were assigned at birth or during infancy, or as a gender which is not exclusively male or female,” the ABS said in a statement. 

New Standards Welcomed

LGBTIQ+ Health Australia which had worked with the ABS, welcomed the new guidelines. 

“The development of these variables is so incredibly important to the health and wellbeing of our communities. Currently the data on the health and wellbeing of our communities has significant gaps which is hindering Government responses and reducing the benefits we can gain from being included in for example Minimum Data Sets and Coroners data,” CEO Nicky Bath said in a press statement.

“The Standard gives us the means to work with health and wellbeing sector data sets and ensure that the questions to identify LGBTIQ+ communities in the data are asked consistently and appropriately.”

The organisation indicated that the next goal is to get these standards included for the 2026 Census.

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