The main legislation governing sexual orientation discrimination in the UK is The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. Sexual orientation is defined as having a sexual attraction to:
- persons of the same sex (lesbians and gay men)
- persons of the opposite sex (heterosexual)
- persons of both sexes (bisexual).
In a country where, in the words of Tom Robinson, it’s perfectly acceptable to ‘sing if you’re glad to be gay, sing if you’re happy that way’ it may seem strange that lesbianism, homosexuality, bi-sexuality and transgenderism are still issues, but they are.
‘Unfortunately, it is still a problem in the UK. Children are still being bullied and taunted with the word "gay" in the playground because the word still carries negative connotations,’ says Brian McDonnell, Head of Amnesty International’s lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) Network. ‘For adults, being perceived as gay can still inspire violence.’ Apparently, 77 per cent of LGBT young people experience homophobia in schools, while 66 per cent of LGBT individuals have been the victims of homophobia.
In the UK it is against the law for an employer to discriminate against you because of your sexual orientation, or ‘perceived’ sexual orientation – including orientation towards someone of the same sex (lesbian/gay), opposite sex (heterosexual) or both sexes (bisexual). You’re also protected against harassment or bullying at work. The law against sexualorientation discrimination at work covers recruitment, terms and conditions, pay and benefits, status, training, promotion and transfer opportunities, through to redundancy and dismissal. You shouldn’t be treated less favourably (for example, being refused employment) because of your sexual orientation, or because an employer thinks you are of a certain sexual orientation. If you feel you were not offered a job because of your sexual orientation you can take the matter to an employment tribunal.
You have the right not to be disadvantaged by a policy at work because of your sexual orientation. For example, if your company arranges a conference in a country where homosexuality is illegal and there is no good reason for it to be held there, this could be classed as indirect discrimination.
Some employers ask for details of the sexual orientation of employees – either for monitoring purposes, or as part of an equal opportunities questionnaire. However, you don’t have to give this information. In 2005 in the case Brooks v Findlay Industries UK Ltd, the claimant was a gay man who kept his sexual orientation hidden from his colleagues. Colleagues started spreading rumours that he was gay, culminating in open taunts and the disclosure of his confidential contact details which referred to his male partner. The employer was found liable for discrimination and harassment on grounds of sexual orientation.
Despite the progress made in terms of protecting LGBT individuals’ legal rights, there is still more to be done according to experts: ‘In Britain we must not become complacent about the achievements we have made as far as acceptance of the LGBT community is concerned,’ says McDonnell. ‘There are still certain groups in our society, especially religious groups, that would like to see our freedoms curtailed.’
LESBIAN, GAY, BI-SEXUAL, AND TRANS-GENDER FACTS AND FIGURES
- until 1967 male homosexuality was illegal in England and Wales
- homosexuality was still illegal in Scotland until 1980
- homosexuality was still illegal in Northern Ireland until 1982
- until 1992 homosexuality for both women and men was considered a mental disorder by the World Health Organisation
- in 1952 almost 4,000 gay men were arrested in this country simply for being gay – many went to prison and many others suffered the indignity (and often permanent physical and psychological damage) of the supposed ‘cures’, which included lobotomies, aversion therapy, and chemical castration
- lesbianism only escaped criminalisation in order to protect impressionable women: it was feared the mere mention that lesbianism existed was likely to corrupt more women than it protected