Out Now Consulting calls for withdrawal of ‘flawed’ ONS sexual identity study

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LGBT marketing consultancy Out Now Consulting has called on the Office of National Statistics to withdraw a sexual identity study, claiming that its methodology is “deeply flawed”.

The ONS study, Measuring Sexual Identity, found that 1.5% of the UK population are lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB). Out Now founder and CEO Ian Johnson has dismissed the figure, claiming that the methodology used in the survey undercounted the real number.

Johnson said that the ONS figure of 1.5% was unrealistic because it does not include the 3.8% of respondents who answered ‘Don’t know’ to questions about their sexuality, and told Research that a combination of the two figures would give a more accurate view of the UK’s LGB population.

He said: “How many people aged 16 and above really ‘don’t know’ their own sexuality? Does that not strike you as odd, positively queer even?”

The Out Now boss also claimed that the way questions about sexuality were asked would have put some people off giving an honest answer, but the ONS is standing by its figures, and said that its results are “broadly” in line with other similar surveys into the subject.

The UK percentage figure, Johnson said, was “odd” compared to results from the US – where the percentage of LGB people is much higher, according to recent surveys.

The Out Now boss said that the 1993 Yankelovich monitor study in the US, and a similar survey into sexuality by the University of Indiana, “both use superior methodology” and give figures of 6%, 7% or 8% for the combined total of LGB people in the country.

Out Now said that in the US, Yankelovich carried out “a number of personal interviews” with respondents and built up a level of trust before asking about their sexuality, whereas in the UK the question was asked immediately.

The agency said that it was “highly unlikely” that some people would want to answer this question when asked by a comparative stranger.

Comparing the differences between the UK and US results, Johnson said: “So we have to ask, can the ONS data be correct? If yes, then we will need to come to accept that people living in the US are simply four or five times more likely to be homosexual or bisexual than people living in the UK.

“Or, here’s another view: the ONS data is simply wrong. Let’s hope that the Office for National Statistics can be persuaded to raise its game if it attempts a repeat of this embarrassing exercise. The UK deserves far better.”

A statement issued by ONS to Research said: “When collecting information from respondents, ONS asks a question on self-perceived sexual identity rather than looking to measure the wider concept of sexual orientation. Following extensive consultation and testing it was decided that a single question on sexual identity was the most appropriate to ask in general purpose household surveys.

“To produce estimates of the wider concept of sexual orientation, further questions about sexual attraction and behaviour would be required. The estimates that ONS have published are broadly consistent with other household surveys in the UK that asked questions about sexual identity. Interviewers ask respondents which option (heterosexual/straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual, other) best describes how they think of themselves. The question is asked in a way, using a unique showcard method, that ensures confidentiality between household members is maintained.”