Sexual Orientation Monitoring

When you go to see the doctor, or you’re filling out a staff survey, and are asked about your sexual orientation, you may wonder why they’re asking, or what it has to do with your health or your job.

“What’s it got to do with them?”

“When I ask for job details I always look to see if they have a monitoring form which includes sexual orientation, because it makes you think that they have at least thought about issues for lesbians and gay people.”
Bisexual woman

Being asked to tick a box for your sexual orientation should be similar to being asked if you are married or your age - it’s a part of your identity that affects your life but doesn’t necessarily define who you are.

Monitoring forms routinely ask about other things such as ethnicity, gender, religion and disability. These ‘characteristics’, along with sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marital/civil partnership status and maternity are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Public sector organisations must pay due regard to the needs of people with protected characteristics when designing and delivering services, and monitoring for them is an important way to prove that they are meeting these requirements.

So if a service provider or an employer asks about your sexual orientation as part of their monitoring, it’s a positive thing and shows they are working to ensure equality in their organisation.

If you feel unsure about their confidentiality policy, or have some suggestions of how they could improve their monitoring practice, let them know!

“How will it benefit me?”

“When we received monitoring forms at work, it seemed that the only person in our office of ten who wasn’t concerned about the presence of a sexual orientation field was the lesbian! The others felt that there was absolutely no reason for it to be there. It would be a wonderful world if there really was no need for it to be there, but in the meantime, I’ll keep proudly ticking that box and reminding my colleagues why it needs to be there.”
Lesbian woman

Being lesbian, gay or bisexual is now more accepted by society, but there is still a huge lack of evidence about LGB people, our needs and experiences. Monitoring sexual orientation is a proven way to address that lack of evidence.

Current estimates of the LGB population in the UK range from 1.5%1 to between 5-7%2. Neither of these gives the true picture of LGB people’s lives, and may seem an underestimation. Carrying out monitoring helps to build the evidence base about our communities, which in turn will help organisations to understand and provide for our different needs.

Sexual orientation monitoring has lots of benefits for you as a service user and as an employee:

  • Ensuring equality of access and opportunity at work
  • Ensuring equality of access to services
  • Improved services, more specific to your needs
  • Creating a culture of inclusivity and openness at work
  • Recognition that your sexual orientation is as important a part of your identity as your gender or ethnicity, but it doesn’t necessarily define you as a person

“What can they do with the information?”

“I was amazed to see a question on sexual orientation was included alongside other questions about age, gender, ethnicity etc on a survey from my GP. It made me feel proud to tick that box! Knowing that sexual orientation is recognised as important by my GP made me feel important to them.”
Gay man

Monitoring data should always be kept confidential and stored in line with the Data Protection Act. If you’re unsure about this, ask the organisation what their policy is.

Monitoring sexual orientation leads to improved outcomes for LGB people. A few examples are:

  • Lesbian and bisexual women are less likely to attend cervical screening tests than straight women. If a healthcare provider knows through their own monitoring that a low proportion of their service users are lesbian and bisexual women, then they can run a targeted awareness campaign to encourage more LB women to go for screening.
  • Data from staff satisfaction surveys can be used to indentify incidents of bullying and harassment related to sexual orientation and support targeted work to address these.
  • Housing associations can cross-references complaints about contractors or areas with data they hold on sexual orientation, to identify homophobic incidents and take steps to tackle them.
  • Targeted health interventions for gay and bisexual men, such as free condom and lube distribution, really make a difference to sexual health outcomes and are supported by sexual orientation monitoring.

1 Office for National Statistics
2 Department for Trade and Industry

August 2011