Pride month is all about 2SLGBTQIA+ folks— but what about the rest of the year? I know that I get lots of questions at the library about data relating to sexuality and/or gender identity. It’s surprisingly hard to find statistical data about trans and non-binary Canadians. That’s why I’m excited to let you know that Statistics Canada (StatCan) improved their survey design to try to include all Canadians for the 2021 Census of Population.
In previous Canadian censuses, everyone was asked to declare their sex as male or female. That left trans and non-binary people with a hard choice about how to answer. Data tables based on this question about sex were then labeled as being “by gender.” This conflation of sex and gender meant that transgender and non-binary people were rendered invisible— and made it impossible to use census data to answer any statistical questions about these populations.
Rephrasing and a new question
Institutions like StatCan are slow to change. One problem that they faced was how to best meet the needs of researchers and queer Canadians while maintaining the longitudinal data needed to answer questions using historic data. Their solution was to retain a question about sex, but adding a statement clarifying that they meant assigned sex at birth.
They also added a question on gender, which “refers to current gender which may be different from sex assigned at birth and may be different from what is indicated on legal documents." Respondents could choose male or female or could write in the person’s gender using their own words. The word cloud in this figure shows the diversity of write-in responses from Canadians. It’s great that StatCan provided an option for people to provide their own terms— though StatCan appears to have coded all of these responses as non-binary, which is not ideal. (I hope someone will write a paper about the diversity of terms and StatCan’s choices in the future!)I
Some of the early findings from the 2021 Census of Population were published by Statistics Canada in The Daily. Of interest to researchers in the Maritimes is the fact that “Among all CMAs [Census Metropolitan Areas], the largest proportions of transgender and non-binary people aged 15 and older were found in Victoria (0.75%), Halifax (0.66%) and Fredericton (0.60%), on the west and the east coasts of Canada.”
This is basically a teaser, as it does take a long time for census data to be processed. More detailed information will come with future data releases that include analyses of couples and households. For the first time, households that include at least one transgender or non-binary person will be able to see our families represented in the Census.
StatCan has policies in place to protect the privacy of marginalized communities, so I’m expecting that much of the data relating to transgender and non-binary Canadians will only be publicly available at the level of provinces or Census Metropolitan Areas. Some sensitive data is potentially available to researchers who apply to Stats Can for access, but that’s a long process. If you have a research question about transgender and non-binary Canadians, please contact me and I’ll do my best to facilitate the process of requesting the data that you need from Statistics Canada.
American data and research
While we wait for more Canadian data, check out the ICPSR Pride Month 2022 Data Resource Guide. Of particular interest is TransPop, a statistically robust dataset on transgender individuals and cisgender comparators in the United States. The data-related publications listed on the guide are excellent examples of focused studies that use existing datasets.
Happy Pride! Enjoy the new data!
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