LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender)
Little reliable data is available about the size and profile of the LGBT population. The national Census, for example, does not ask people about their sexual orientation or gender identity (these remain the only two protected characteristics not to be measured by the Census). Nevertheless, a number of national surveys include some relevant data.
Subnational Sexual Identity estimates (ONS):
In April 2017, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published experimental estimates of sexual identity at a local authority (county) level for the first time, based on survey data covering 2013 to 2015
- The estimates suggest that 95.2% of Somerset’s adult (aged 16 or over) population identify themselves as heterosexual or straight; 0.9% (4,000 residents) identify as gay or lesbian; 1.1% (5,000 residents) identify as bisexual; and 0.4% (2,000 residents) as ‘Other’ (‘other’ indicates that respondents did not consider themselves to fit into the heterosexual or straight, bisexual, gay or lesbian categories). 2.4% of respondents didn’t know or refused to answer.
- UK wide, the proportion of adults identifying as heterosexual or straight ranged from 72% in Camden to 99% in Monmouthshire.
Annual Population Survey (ONS):
In October 2017, the Office for National Statistics published estimates of sexual identity at a national level, based on the 2016 Annual Population Survey:
- 2.0% of UK adults identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual (LGB) in 2016, representing a statistically significant increase on the 1.7% figure the previous year.
- The population aged 16 to 24 were the age group most likely to identify as LGB in 2016 (4.1%).
- More males (2.3%) than females (1.6%) identified themselves as LGB.
- If national proportions were applied to Somerset’s population demographic, it would equate to around 9,000 lesbian, gay or bisexual adults in the county.
GP Patient Survey 2014 (NHS England):
- 1.6% of respondents (138 of 8,682 respondents) in Somerset in 2014 gave their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
It is widely accepted that these overall figures are likely to be an underestimation of the size of the LGB population, due to respondents not being ready or able to openly identify themselves as LGB. Several historical reports and surveys, in the UK and overseas, have variously put the size of the LGB population at between 5% and 7%. For the purposes of assessing the impact of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, the Department for Trade and Industry made an assumption that 5% of the adult GB population was lesbian, gay, or bisexual. If applied to the Somerset population, this would equate to around 22,000 adults in Somerset. There has been no validated national estimate of the transgender population.
Civil Partnership statistics (ONS):
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in December 2005 allowing same-sex couples to register their relationship for the first time. Since 2006 the Office for National Statistics has published annual statistics on civil partnership formations.
- Between 2006 and 2015 a total of 423 civil partnerships were formed in Somerset.
- Somerset is broadly in line with the national average in terms of rates of civil partnership per head of population. Rates tend to be higher in larger urban areas (such as Bristol and Bournemouth in the South West). Male partnership formation also tends to be more prominent in large cities.
Following implementation of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, the first marriages of same sex couples took place on 29 March 2014. Civil partners have been able to convert their civil partnership into a marriage, if they so desired, from 10 December 2014.
Marriage statistics (ONS):
In 2014 there were a total of 39 marriages of same sex couples recorded in Somerset (17 male and 22 female couples) according to figures released in March 2017.
In October 2015 the ONS published an analysis of national data on marriages of same-sex couples.
Although the census did not ask about sexual orientation, it did include a question on marital or civil partnership status.
- At the time of the census, just under 700 Somerset residents identified themselves as being in a same-sex civil partnership. There was a broad 50:50 split of people living in urban and rural areas. At a district level, West Somerset had the highest rate of civil partnerships and Taunton Deane the lowest.
LGBT Research and Consultation
This section summarises recently published local research and consultation relating to Somerset's LGBT community.
Impact of Coming Out on Mental Health (2BU-Somerset, 2016)
‘Coming out’ is a term used to refer to the point at which a person decides to tell another person about their gender identity or sexual orientation. In 2016, 2BU-Somerset conducted their ‘Coming Out’ survey to extend understanding of the impact of homophobia and investigate the potential impact this has amongst young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ). The previous Coming Out survey conducted in 2013 is featured further down this page.
This report summarises results of a survey in which more than 100 young people in Somerset considered their ‘coming out’ experiences, provided examples of homophobia and commented on how this has affected them in their day-to-day lives.
In particular, the results reveal that:-
- 85% of respondents indicated that they had either been bullied, witnessed bullying or both.
- Only 1 in 3 had reported the bullying
- 86% had experienced verbal abuse
- 3 in 4 reported deliberate self-harm
- Almost half had attempted suicide
The report can be read here.
Further information and guidance are available via the 2BU website.
Somerset Gay and Bisexual Men’s Research Report (2015)
In February 2015, the Diversity Trust published a report on the experiences of older gay and bisexual men living in rural communities in Somerset, based on focus groups and interviews with 32 gay bisexual men across the county. Findings were summarised within the report as follows:
- Participants told us they often travel out of the county, for social and support opportunities, as there is no specialist or targeted support available in the county.
- Most of the gay and bisexual men we spoke to used the internet to find out information and use social media and geo-spacial networking apps to meet others.
- Many gay and bisexual men told us that they got their information through “word of mouth” and that this informal network helped gain support from other gay and bisexual men.
- People perceived the need for gay specific social meeting spaces as still being important, feeling safe and secure.
- The closure of gay social meeting spaces, especially in Taunton over recent years, is considered a loss to the gay community.
- Concerns were expressed for men under 25 years and men over 65 years in age as this may impact on social isolation for these groups.
- The MSM (men who have sex with men) we interviewed told us that they were not “out” in their day-to-day lives and this impacted on their ability to access social and support opportunities
- Older men, aged 50 plus, told us that they had developed a social / support network for themselves. This network was essential for their wellbeing and gave them a sense of belonging to community.
- Whilst advances have been made in terms of legislation, many gay and bisexual men still feel unable to show affection to a same-sex partner in public, for fear of attack and abuse.
- Gay and bisexual men in Somerset reported experiencing homophobia and hate crime. These attacks were often were left unreported.
- There are concerns about retirement, and going into residential care homes where staff attitudes can sometimes be hostile to gay people.
- Participants spoke of the need for health and social care service providers, too, to be trained to provide improved services.
- Participants also spoke of the promotion of services to the local LGB and Trans communities as a way to increase and improve access.
- The need for an openly LGB and Trans friendly counselling service in the area to be promoted.
- Training for teachers in schools was highlighted as a need to address the fears our participants had of another generation of young gay and bisexual men experiencing homophobia and biphobia and the impact that has on mental health, self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.
The full report is available from the Diversity Trust website.
Following publication of this report, action was taken by local authorities in Somerset to address issues raised in the research. This is summarised in this report update (February 2016) by the Somerset Equality Officers Group and Diversity Trust.
Please also see 'Evidence for Change', a similar report focussing on the LGBT community in Bristol (September 2016).
Review of LGBT Sexual Health Services (2015)
In January 2015, the Diversity Trust published the findings of a review of sexual health services in Somerset, commissioned by Somerset Partnership NHS Trust, focussing on the sexual health needs of LGBT young people.
The review found that LGB and Trans young people were more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation and have higher levels of smoking, alcohol use and substance misuse, likely to be linked to stress from isolation, bullying and harassment. Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying were common in schools across the area and could be aimed at anyone who did not conform to a gender or sexual identity norm (whether they are ‘out’ or not). These factors, compounded by the increased risk of HIV and other STI’s, especially amongst gay, bisexual and MSM (men who have sex with men), could lead to an increase in risk-taking behaviours.
The research also found that:
- LGB and Trans young people have a unique and complex set of needs that are hard to meet through generic support services;
- Young people struggle to find LGB and Trans specific support to help them safely explore their gender identity and / or their sexual orientation, feelings about relationships and understanding of safer sex and sexual health;
- LGB and Trans young people often help-seek through informal networks; this can lead to inaccurate information;
- Young LGB and Trans people can experience negative attitudes and comments from some healthcare professionals. They therefore feel unable to express themselves and talk openly about how they feel;
- Many LGB and Trans young people seek support and a community in pubs and clubs, even if they are underage. These environments may lack positive role models and expose young people to alcohol, drugs and sexual exploitation; feelings of loneliness and isolation are common amongst LGB and Trans young people;
- LGB and Trans young people are more likely to experience adverse mental health and emotional wellbeing outcomes than their peers in the general population.
The full report is available from the Diversity Trust website.
Delivering Equality: LGBT Health and Social Care research (JSNA, 2012)
The Diversity Trust produced a report ‘Delivering Equality’ for the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment in 2012 focussing on Health and Social Care Needs of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) community in Somerset. Key issues highlighted by those focus groups with young people under the age of 25 are summarised below, with quotes from young participants included to illustate the points. Please note that there were several focus groups held over a range of ages and therefore the heading introductions before the quotes reflect this.
Many respondents reported the assumptions made about gender identity and sexual orientation, the cisgenderism and heterosexism they experienced, and the lack of understanding about being LGBT, being the issue which excluded LGBT people the most. Others reflected on the lack of awareness, training and experience in specific LGBT health issues.
“I think that’s a huge thing isn’t it in terms of people, I mean my GP, at my age doesn’t know I’m gay so I think you go to the doctor for whatever you’ve got wrong with you and I guess sometimes they make an assumption the way they might phrase things but I don’t think its….unless, I don’t know, something that I needed to tell him, then he’ll just treat you. I think it’s when you go to somewhere and they say something like, you’re going in as an inpatient to have a knee operation or something, and they say ‘your next of kin - your wife’s details’ or whatever ‘Oh, I’m not married’ and those kinds of things rather than ‘partner’ it’s just use of language sometimes.”
“I just don’t think that it should be relevant unless it is something that really does affect your health. I don’t think it should have any relevance as to how your doctor treats you.”
Mental and Sexual Health matters
Some respondents wrote about assumptions made about mental health and depression in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation being a particular barrier and not taken seriously by healthcare professionals. Others mentioned issues around sexual health and the quality or inconsistency of sex education in schools and colleges.
“It’d be nice as a teenager not just to see the NHS from the sexual health angle because that the only message that we kind of get is sexual health, sexual health, sexual health, have you got condoms? Here, have more! It’d be nice to actually see the NHS from a different angle, mental health in secondary schools, they don’t really talk about that, it’s just ‘are you wearing a condom?”
“Sex education/sexual health – it’s all about straight sex. There’s no gay sex, you never get to talk about gay sex. There’s no way of knowing that gay sex exists.”
Many respondents had ideas for how health services could be improved, including generic ideas around improvements in LGBT health, and more specific ideas around improving Lesbian health, Gay men’s health and Trans health. Raising awareness and staff training were mentioned by many participants as a way to improve access to health.
Training in LGBT awareness for staff was the second most commented on subject, after not making assumptions on gender identity and sexual orientation. Some commented on the need for more positive images and messages.
“Something within the schools and colleges that says ‘these are the services available’ because I’m sure that the NHS does do loads of stuff but I won’t have a clue unless I go out and find out about it. It would be helpful for teenagers to actually come to you and to just say ‘this is a range of stuff that could be helpful to you’ not go to the doctors.”
“Everyone in the NHS should be taught about what LGBT is and why it’s fine. That should just be something that a health service shouldn’t get wrong. They’re your patients and you have to understand that that’s your job. You should probably know them better than they do in some respects and, to be able to go ‘I don’t like LGBT’ is wrong and they’re not providing an essential life service. That’s not right.”
Whilst the majority of respondents had very little experience of accessing or receiving social care services currently, respondents spoke about the fears they have for the future in receiving social care which is at least heterosexist and cisgenderist and at worst homophobic and Transphobic.
The subjects of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in education came up a lot, especially during the interviews and focus groups. Further research is required and a recommendation is included in the executive summary section of the report.
“I think with education, it’s the fact that it’s just not talked about. Even if it was talked about, people didn’t understand it as long as they knew it was going on, it should be accepted, being LGBT should be accepted. Some people might not understand but they just need to be told that it’s out there, that it’s ok to be like it (LGBT). It’s the fact that it’s totally ignored is what is causing some of the real problems, that some people don’t know about it who’re 16 and 17 at college. Especially in safe environments like the school, like hospital, the doctors’ surgery, it should be known, it should be acceptable, it should be fine, there should be no problem. Like at school it should just be taught, it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s another thing that’s fine.”
The full report is available in the JSNA section of the website.
Mental Health and LGBTQ young people research (2012-2014)
In 2012, Lisa Snowden-Carr, the co-director and youth worker for Somerset-based organisation 2BU, carried out a small-scale study on the current prevalence of mental health issues amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people in Somerset. In November 2013, the same researcher expanded the sample group and investigated how, if at all, 'coming out' affects the mental health of young LGBTQ people in the county.
A majority of participants stated that their sexuality had affected their mental health in some way. They identified a number of barriers and deterrents to 'coming out'. The study supports findings from other research which has found that on average, young people who identify as LGBTQ first consider their sexuality at the age of thirteen, but do not actually tell another person for a further two years. The full report is available here.
A further study, published in May 2014, highlights the impact of 'minority stress', raising implications for professionals working with young people who are LGBTQ and indicates the level of support needed by some young people responding to issues relating to sexual orientation.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Training
The Diversity Trust provides training across South West England and the rest of the country. Their Winter 2015 Newsletter, Diversity News, features more details, including a special feature on Trans Awareness trainers and the work they do.
The Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) has produced some E-Learning training modules on Transgender Awareness for Employers and Service Providers. Click on this webpage, choose E-Learning modules on the right hand side, and click on Employers/service providers.