A gay rights activist has said it takes courage to “come out” in Northern Ireland after a new survey revealed the region has the lowest proportion of gays and lesbians in the UK.
PA Mag Lochlainn, president of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, was speaking after information was collected as part of the new Integrated Household Survey (IHS) and figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Respondents were asked whether they would describe themselves as heterosexual, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or other.
Only 0.9% of Northern Ireland respondents said they were gay, lesbian or bisexual — the lowest percentage in the UK.
London polled the highest percentage with 2.2% saying they were gay, lesbian or bisexual. Paradoxically, the survey also revealed that Northern Ireland has the lowest percentage of heterosexual people at 92.4%. This is because 5.3% of people said they did not know their sexual orientation or refused to answer question, 1% offered no response and a further 0.4% defined themselves as ‘other’. North East England held the highest percentage of declared heterosexuals at 96.7%.
Responding to the survey, PA Mag Lochlainn said he did not trust the accuracy of the report. He told the Belfast Telegraph: “If you were to ask this survey in secret you would get a very different picture. It is like asking people here about their political opinion, people are reluctant to say how they really feel.
“People in Northern Ireland are definitely more religiously concerned here than in the rest of the UK and this seems to be an aspect to people ‘coming out’.
“It takes more courage to come out in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Mag Lochlainn said the local gay scene is thriving and said he believes attitudes are improving yearly.
He said: “The gay and lesbian culture in Northern Ireland is definitely more enjoyable and brighter. I would say prejudice is falling here, but there is a high level of fear out there.
“A lot of people in Northern Ireland think their neighbours are more bigoted than they actually are.
“Meanwhile, protesters persist to think they represent the majority when they clearly do not.
“Up to 10,000 people marched during gay pride this year — there were only 30 protesters.”
The IHS is the largest social survey ever produced by the ONS and contains information provided by nearly 450,000 people.