SCOTLAND’S census presents a historic opportunity to give greater visibility to the country’s LGBT community, but there are concerns that the figures will be weaponised whatever the results are.

Dr Kevin Guyan, a data researcher at the University of Glasgow, said that whether the census shows a smaller or larger number of LGBT people in Scotland than assumed it could be harmful, as well as good.

“It can be weaponised whether the number is too small or whether it’s too big, there is no kind of ideal ­percentage to land on,” he said.

Last week, Culture Secretary ­Angus Robertson announced that the census was ready to move to the next stage, after a month-long extension and the target response only hitting 87.9%, short of the National Records of Scotland’s goal of 94%.

This is the first census where Scots were asked to respond to questions relating to sexual identity and gender. Guyan while researching his book Queer Data, observed the design ­process for the census for 2022 and submitted evidence to the Holyrood committee tasked with creating it.

As a researcher who specifically looks at the intersection between data and identity, such as the LGBT community, Guyan (below) notes that there are “potential risks” for any minority groups including those with disabilities and people of colour during any large-scale data collection exercise.

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He said: “On the one hand, we’ve got this progressive positive step ­forward where LGBT people are ­being counted for the first time and not to underestimate how big a deal that is – hardly any census in the world counts sexual orientation or gender identities so that was a real positive in many ways – but alongside that, not losing sight of who is kind of lost in this positive step forward.

“For example, non-binary ­people, and also under the umbrella of ­sexual orientation it is only ­capturing one kind of sliver or one way of ­conceptualising sexual orientation by asking whether you’re gay, lesbian or bi[sexual].

“But not maybe capturing the full ­nuance of these communities. So I think it’s always a double-edged sword.”

The census comes at a time when hate crimes against LGBT ­communities are rising in Scotland, with ­reports to police of attacks with a trans or sexual orientation ­“aggravator” showing a gradual ­annual increase. It also comes amidst heated debate over gender recognition reform, with the Bill currently going through Holyrood part of the Scottish Government’s bid to make it easier for transgender people to ­legally change their gender via a ­Gender Recognition certificate.

The size of Scotland’s transgender community, estimated to be around 1% of the population, has never been confirmed via an exercise like the census, and neither has sexuality been logged on such a nationwide scale. Guyan has concerns that whatever the figures are, there could be a backlash or negative impact for the LGBT community in Scotland.

He explained: “My concerns are that if the percentage is lower than maybe imagined to be, maybe the count will come out and it will say 1% of Scotland’s population identifies as LGBT, whereas we previously thought that might be a bit higher.

“What might be the trickle down impact of that for funding, for the view of the wider public, for politicians who may be looking to cut funding and services for LGBT groups?

“There are some risks of that ­number being small. At the same time, we’ve seen a weaponisation of the number being too high or higher than you’ll assume it to be.”

Guyan points to instances in the United States where Gen Z, ­typically those born between 2007 and 2012, are having the way they identify ­themselves “weaponised as ­something that’s trendy or fashionable”.

Guyan adds that not including these aspects of the community, such as non-binary people or those who identify their sexuality as something other than LGB, is not “acknowledging reality and valuing this is how people are wishing to identify for a variety of reasons”.

Data collection in regards to LGBT communities has a “toxic history”, Guyan adds, noting that previously harmful data like criminal records or psychological assessments were collected as evidence to show “something was wrong or different about these groups”.

It would be “blinkered thinking” to believe that won’t have an impact on how LGBT people think and relate to data collection practices today, he added.

Guyan is not completely dispirited, noting there will be positives to the LGBT community having visibility but cautioned against the census giving a complete picture.

He said: “Whatever we’re working on, we always have to assume an undercount. We always have to assume that this is one snapshot of the world around us, it’s not the only snapshot.”