BLOG 21st June 2019

How to Ask about Gender and Sexuality in Surveys

Why should we ask about gender or sexuality?

If you're trying to reach more diverse audiences that include LGBTQ+ people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer + other sexual and gender minorities), then you'll want to track who is coming, and if your efforts have had any effect.

You may also have run a project or service that was designed to cater to a particular gender. For example, a workshop for older men in the local community, or a transgender film strand in an LGBTQ+ film season.

Funders will often require you to collect certain types of data too.

The important thing is to be able to justify why you’re collecting this personal data, and demonstrate that you need it for a particular purpose.

For a visitor or audience member, just seeing their gender or orientation on a survey can send a strong signal that the organisation is making positive steps to include and welcome them.

As things progress, the accepted standards for language around sexuality and gender may change, but the best thing to do is to make it clear to your audiences that you are open to feedback and are willing consider new ideas and make changes.

Some things to bear in mind

Gender and sexuality may be very clear-cut for some, but some people prefer not to label themselves, or might prefer not to disclose at all because they don’t feel comfortable answering the questions. So it's always essential to allow respondents to self-describe and to opt-out of answering such personal questions.

When you're collecting any kind of personal data, remember to be GDPR-compliant, and inform people of how you will collect and store their data securely. The easiest way to do this is a clear link to your privacy policy.

Make it clear why you are collecting this data. Here are some examples of ways to explain why you're asking these personal questions:

We want our exhibits to be enjoyed by all. To ensure we are reaching the broadest audience possible, we track the ethnicity, ability, gender, and sexuality of our audiences. All of your responses will be kept confidential, and used to improve the work we do here at Factory Arts.
This year, we've specifically programmed a range of films by trans creators in our May programme. We want these films to reach trans audiences. To do this, we need to ask a few questions about your gender. We'd really appreciate your feedback on these to help us develop our programme for next year.

The Market Research Society have some useful guidelines if you are collecting survey responses in-person.

Gender and Sex - what's the difference?

Many surveys ask about 'sex' and some ask about 'gender'. So what's the difference and which one should we be asking about?

When people talk about a person's sex, they are usually referring to physical characteristics, hormones, and genes, and the sex you were assigned at birth. Most people will fit into either the male or female categories, but not all, so always include a category for intersex, and an option for people to self-describe if you are asking about this category.

Gender is less about physical biology, and more to do with who we are as people, and our innate sense of self. For many people, their sex assigned at birth matches their current gender identity. But this isn't always the case, so gender is usually a much more useful category to ask about, rather than sex, which may not accurately reflect how a survey respondent lives and experiences the world now.

When asking about gender, always make sure to allow people to opt-out, or to self-describe.

Here's an example of how to ask about a respondent's gender:

1. How would you describe your gender?

[ ] Male (including transgender men)

[ ] Female (including transgender women)

[ ] Prefer to self describe as ____________ (non-binary, gender-fluid, agender, please specify)

[ ] Prefer not to say

Cisgender and Transgender

Cisgender describes anyone whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.

Transgender describes anyone whose gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth.

It's possible to include 'Transgender' as an option when asking about gender, but transgender is not a gender in itself and most trans people identify as either male or female and some prefer no gender at all. So asking a separate question about trans history, as well as asking about gender, is the best way to offer people the option to share that they are trans or have had a trans history.

Here's an example:

1. Do you identify as transgender or have a transgender history?

[ ] Yes

[ ] No

[ ] Prefer not to say

Asking about Sexual Orientation

There are a wide variety of ways to identify your own sexual orientation, so it can be a challenge to include enough options in your survey, without making it too confusing for the respondent. In the example below, we've listed some of the most common ways to identify, along with allowing people to self-describe or opt-out.

Here's an example:

1. Please tick the sexual orientation category that best represents you:

[ ] Bisexual

[ ] Pansexual

[ ] Gay man

[ ] Gay Woman / Lesbian

[ ] Prefer to self-describe ____________________

[ ] Prefer not to say

If you are confused about any terms you come across, Stonewall's Glossary of Terms can be really helpful.

Get Some Help

If you'd like some personalised advice about your own surveys and research, you can book in for a free Audience Appointment. And if you'd like us to design, carry out, and report on a survey for you, check out our research services.

Thank You

Thank you to Ruth McCarthy of Outburst Arts for her help in creating this resource.

Maurane Ramon

Head of Client Development

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