This is not a Census to be proud of, writes fmr United Future leader Damian Light

Former United Future leader Damian Light.
Former United Future leader Damian Light. Photo credit: The AM Show

OPINION: Despite claims of a modern Census, this year we will not be asked about sexual orientation, and the only gender options will be male or female.

It's not just backward. It's also harmful. It could mean funding doesn't get to essential services the LGBTI community needs. By refusing to count beyond the binary gender and ignoring orientation all together, the Census is being willfully ignorant. 

Even the infamously slow-moving bureaucracy the Electoral Commission managed to squeeze a non-binary option for gender onto the candidate nomination form for last year's general election without much fuss. Candidates this year were 341 male, 190 female and 3 gender diverse/not specified. 

How this isn't possible for the Census is something we don't have a real answer for. 

What has become clear is that there is still a huge amount of ignorance about orientation and gender. 

One comment I saw online was particularly steeped in irony, asking whether non-heterosexuals realise they are a minority. I assume it's a rhetorical question.

I doubt anyone in the LGBTI community isn't reminded daily that they're not the majority, but the fact is we actually don't know what the numbers are. The old adage 'we don't know what we don't know' sums it up perfectly.

Which is the whole point of the Census - to know who we are. The Government needs this information to help ensure it can provide for current and future needs.

And this goes beyond just Government - the Census website explains how important the information is for community groups and organisations who "use the information to support funding applications and make the case for improvements within their communities." But only certain communities, it seems. 

We know that mental health issues are more prevalent for those who identify on the LGBTI spectrum and that inclusiveness is a major factor. The Census website proudly talks about "people like you", only to exclude anyone who doesn't met a particularly narrow and outdated view. 

It's particularly frustrating for those who've been asking for this information for years. 

Three years ago Statistics NZ conducted online consultation on the subject of gender and orientation. They concluded that there was significant demand and reasons, even noting a 2014 report from the Human Rights Commission which highlighted the importance of that visibility as a means of promoting equality and decreasing discrimination. And decided to ignore it. 

That's the real issue here - Stats NZ had the opportunity to make this Census a really modern one, not just because it's online, but because it was open to every New Zealander. 

Instead, on March 6 as we fill in our "modern" census, some of us will find that they are unable to answer honestly - which the law requires. Not because no one thought about them, but because it was decided to not count them. 

Hardly the modern Census we can be proud of.

Damian Light is a politician and the former leader of United Future.