Report on data collection and management

14 May 2019
Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
To the HRC at its 41st session, 24 June–12 July 2019


In May 2018, a group of United Nations and international human rights experts expressed concern that LGBT people were being left behind. To remedy this, actions would be needed “to tear down the systematic barriers that exclude LGBT persons from the benefits of the development agenda.” The experts pointed out the need for data, and the need to ensure that data collection and management would be in line with human rights standards.

Currently, there are serious gaps in available data to capture the lived realities of LGBT people. Prejudice and criminalization may result in non- or under-reporting of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Similarly, some States deny the existence of violence and discrimination against LGBT people, or even of the presence of LGBT persons, in their jurisdiction.

Data is crucial to creating visibility and building an evidence base of human rights abuses and potential responses. Having accurate data would provide evidence of the extent of the challenges faced by the LGBT population, and of the policy and legislative needs in that regard. It would also help dispel myths and stereotypes that feed stigma and discrimination. Further, it would also help policy-makers and advocates to draft State measures for socio-economic inclusion, access to health and education, inclusion in the civic and political sphere, anti-discriminatory measures, prevention of abuses, and access to justice.

On the other hand, collecting data about sexual orientation and gender identity raises concerns about privacy, identity, self-determination, and security. Information about an individual’s sexuality and gender continues to be highly stigmatizing. In countries where same-sex sexual conduct is criminalized, where laws and policies are used to discriminate against or persecute LGBT persons, or where stigma and prejudice are rampant, victims will be much less likely to report abuses. This is due to fear of prosecution, stigma, reprisals or victimization, unwillingness to be “outed”, or lack of trust. Even in progressive environments, the worry of regression may lead to non- or under-reporting. In addition, there is currently no globally-accepted definition, or international classification scheme, to facilitate internationally comparable data between subpopulations according to sexual orientation and gender identity. 


In this report, the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, focuses on data collection and management as a means to create heightened awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He identifies risks associated with data collection, use and storage, and highlights key human rights safeguards in that regard.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Independent Experts finds that information about the lived realities of LGBT people around the world is, at best, incomplete and fragmented, but in most countries it is simply non-existent. His findings show that barriers created by criminalization, pathologization, demonization and stigmatization hinder accurate estimates regarding the world population affected by violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This means that in most contexts, policymakers are taking decisions in the dark, left only with personal preconceptions and prejudices.

Data on demographic, economic, social and cultural characteristics, literacy rates, unemployment rates, voting patterns, the number of reported cases of violence and other indicators are essential to the efforts of States to comply with their obligations and to the evaluation of progress towards major development objectives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Independent Expert notes that States have the duty to understand how sexual orientation and/or gender identity impact on someone’s exposure of vulnerability to violence and discrimination.

He recommends that States design and implement comprehensive data collection procedures to assess the type, prevalence, trends and patters of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons. When doing so, States need always respect the overriding ‘do no harm’ principle and follow a human rights-based approach to prevent the misuse of collected data.

Watch the presentation of the report at the Human Rights Council: 1st meeting | 2nd meeting

Read the press release


For the preparation of this report, the Independent Expert sought views and input on gaps and good practices through different channels and from different stakeholders.

The Independent Expert held a public consultation on 13 February 2019 in Geneva, open to Members States, UN agencies, programmes and funds, regional human rights mechanisms, National Human Rights Institutions, members of civil society organizations, academic institutions, corporate entities, and all other interested stakeholders.

Participants discussed the following issues:

  • Current efforts by States to increase their knowledge of the LGBT population, including through surveys or administrative records
  • Data needed to understand violence, discrimination, and disparities in health, education, labor, civic participation, and other important areas
  • Safeguards necessary to protect the privacy of individuals, and the confidentiality of the data provided
  • Risks associated with the collection and management of data on sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Circumstances where data collection is ill-advised, such as in countries that criminalize same-sex behavior
  • Meaningful participation by civil society in data gathering design and implementation
  • Impact of the lack of a global classification scheme on international comparisons, or accurate reflection of the identities and lived realities of local populations

See the concept note (English | Français | Español)

In partnership with the UNDP, the Independent Expert also co-organised a meeting of experts on 14 February 2019 in Geneva. The meeting enabled a cross-disciplinary discussion about key human rights safeguards to consider when collecting and managing data. The meeting aimed to identify a human rights-based approach to data collection in the context of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

To ensure accessibility to stakeholders elsewhere, the mandate further held online consultations in English, French and Spanish on 27-28 February and on 5-6 March 2019. See the webinar consultation note (English | Français | Español).

On 15 February 2019, the Independent Expert issued a call for written submissions, for which he received around 90 submissions from United Nations Member States, civil society organisations, national human rights institutions, Ombudspersons, academics, United Nations agencies, funds and programmes. Find links to all inputs received below.

Inputs Received

Member States

National Human Rights Institutions, Equality Bodies and Ombudspersons

Civil Society Organisations and defenders

United Nations Agencies, Funds and Programs