Monday, 24 October 2011

On reporting statistics and monitoring

There has been a series of kafuffles here and there about councils and other government agencies collecting information on whether someone is GBLT or not – you know, the standard forms, tick various boxes etc. Councils and other government bodies have been scrapping them because they're considered “intrusive”

Such forms are not new – they regularly collect information on race, ethnicity, gender and religion to name but a few. So do many employers for that matter.

And there is a point. I don't particularly like being faced with the prospect of having to lie or having to Out myself. It's never fun to be put in that position (though many of us are put in that position repeatedly). Nor do I particularly trust the powers that be to have that information, keep that information safe and use it wisely – or understand just how important that information is

And, of course, any statistics about us are always suspect because of the problem of the closet and the dangers of outing ourselves. By definition, it is difficult, if not impossible, to collect accurate data about a hidden population and there's always going to be a level of suspect on the data produced.

But, in some ways, I think that the existence of the closet also makes it even more necessary to collect this data. Because we're easily ignored and forgotten, we're easily overlooked and when we're not around or invisible it is considered normal, acceptable or even ideal – because of the closet and the prejudice that built it and made it so necessary to so many of us.

By not collecting this data, however fraught and leery we have to be about it because of the closet (though, that in itself can be an interesting data point. If a particular region/profession/age group/etc is showing a complete absence of us then that implies there is something wrong that is either a) driving us away or b) forcing us to hide. Because we're evvvvvverywhere) we're not going to be able to identify homophobia and transphobia if we don't look for it and aren't aware of it.

How do you know if a local health service is providing equal and necessary care to GBLT people if we don't seek out and speak to the GBLT people under its remit? How do we know if a local council is utterly failing the GBLT people under it? How do we know if a police force is trying (or succeeding) in bridging the gap of trust between them and the GBLT community if we don't try to monitor its actions in relation to GBLT people? How do we know if an employer is actively discriminating against GBLT people?

How do we know if bodies are doing any good at all when it comes to equality if they don't bother to monitor it?

How do we trust the straight world not to play “out of sight out of mind”? How are we, GBLT people, reassured that the powers that be do have us in mind and are at least trying to consider our issues – if nothing else because they'll miss some target or other? How do we know we're not utterly invisible?

It's another one of those issues that has no simple answer. There is an element of trust an intrusion – and it has to be done well (such as allowing own self-identification) but there's also a problem with being ignored.