Northern Ireland census results show lowest proportion of lesbian, gay or bisexual people in UK

Younger people and those in more urban areas more likely to describe themselves as LGB+ than rural or older people

Marchers at 2022's Belfast Pride parade. Those in cities were more likely to define as gay, lesbian, bisexual or other on the census. Photograph: Mark Marlow/PA

The first census in Northern Ireland to explore sexual orientation has found that 2.1 per cent of the population identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or other – the lowest proportion in the UK.

Carried out in 2021, the results showed that 31,600 people aged 16 and over were LGB+. In Wales, the comparative figure was 3.0 per cent and in England it was 3.2 per cent. The Scottish census was run separately a year later.

No figures for gender identity were gathered in the census.

Younger people in Northern Ireland were much more likely to describe themselves as LGB+, according to the data, which revealed that 4..6 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds identified as such, falling to 0.3 per cent for over-65s.


Differences were also apparent in those living in more urban areas, including Belfast and Derry.

The census responses showed one in 25 adults in Belfast were lesbian, gay, bisexual or another sexual orientation.

This drops to just over one per cent for the Mid-Ulster council region, which takes in a vast swathe of rural towns and villages, stretching from Swatragh in Co Derry to Fivemiletown in Co Tyrone.

Ninety per cent, or 1.364 million of the North’s adult population, identified as straight or heterosexual while 8 per cent did not answer the question or ticked ‘prefer not to say’.

The Rainbow Project, a charity which promotes the health and wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ people in Northern Ireland, welcomed the release of the data as a “meaningful step” but expressed disappointment the census did not include questions on gender identity.

“It’s important that we now have clear statistics when it comes to those who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual as for many years they’ve been a hidden population,” Aisling Playford, the project’s policy and advocacy manager, told The Irish Times.

“There’s been failed opportunities by statutory and public bodies to record sexual orientation. They have chosen not to do so or omitted it completely from their processes.

“But what the census does show us is that there is eight per cent of people who do not feel safe or comfortable to state their sexual orientation – which shows that there is still a stigma and fear,” she said, referring to the number who did not answer the question as part of the survey.

“The fact we don’t have that comparison for gender identity as we do in England, Wales and Scotland, will also lead to further invisibility for trans and non-binary people.”

Ms Playford said it was significant that the North had the lowest rate but “not surprising” given that “we’re still seen as somewhat of a conservative society”.

“In terms of education, we are not talking around LGBT identities in schools. We’re also facing a high level of homophobic hate crime, it’s the highest it’s ever been,” she added.

“We’ve seen lots of changes here but there’s many inequalities we still face.”

Published on Tuesday by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra), this was the final release of the 2021 census results which also examined employment, qualifications and marital status.

In the first tranche released last May, it emerged that Northern Ireland’s population has risen to a record high of more than 1.9 million.

The final set of figures showed that almost quarter of people aged 16 and over left school with no qualifications.

A total of 361,000 adults (24 per cent) were recorded as having no qualifications, either academic or professional.

Almost a third indicated they had a degree or equivalent level in education.

Responses about employment found that 849,000 adults (56 per cent) were working, 42,000 (2.8 per cent) were unemployed and 624,000 (41 per cent) were economically inactive due to being retired, long-term sick or disabled.

Regarding marital status, there has been a fall in the percentage of adults who are married over the last six censuses, from 61 per cent in 1971 to 46 per cent in 2021, and a rise in those who are single, from 31 per cent to 38 per cent.

The number of divorced adults has risen dramatically from 3,000 in 1971 to more than 90,000 in 2021.

According to Nisra, there was a response rate of 97% to the 2021 census.

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times