Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace
Press Release March 2009


* To comply with a European Union Directive, the government plans to pass legislation aiming to prevent discrimination in the workplace on grounds of sexual orientation towards the end of this year.

* Draft Regulations are now available to the public, and an analysis of these has been conducted by Stonewall, the campaigning organisation for lesbian and gay (L&G) rights.

* Stormbreak, an independent research agency that specialises in conducting studies on L&G related issues, has undertaken a survey on the incidence and nature of workplace sexual orientation discrimination, and perceptions of the Draft Sexual Orientation Discrimination Regulations amongst the L&G community.

* Fieldwork was carried out between the 10th -16th of June amongst 150 members of the Stormbreak nation-wide lesbian and gay panel.

* Highlights of the survey findings are recorded below. A more detailed summary report on the findings, including commentary, is available on request from

The Incidence and Nature of Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace

* 64% of gay men and lesbians reported experience of sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

* 9% said that this resulted from an instruction or encouragement by a boss.

Forms of Sexual Orientation Discrimination Experienced in the Workplace
Base = Total Sample (n=150)

% Recording Discrimination Experienced
Experienced discrimination at all
Not experienced discrimination

Types of discrimination experienced

General mocking/ridicule/innuendo
Verbal abuse
Exclusion from benefits/perks for partners of employees
Refused/held back from promotion
Exclusion from social activities
Refused employment
Disciplinary action
Physical threats
Subjected to grievance taken out by colleague
Refused interview
Refused training
Physical assault
Sexual assault
Police harassment

* 72% of those who had experienced sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace claimed that at least an element of it had been either indirect and/or unintentional.

* 83% of them claimed that the impact of indirect/unintentional discrimination on them was just as damaging as if it had been direct and/or intentional. Consequently, 76% felt that both forms of discrimination should be treated as equally as serious.

"My choice of occupation has been dictated by places and occupations where it is more acceptable to be gay.
This should not be the case."

* 45% of the sample worked in the public sector. 73% claimed to work in establishments that had Equal Opportunities Policies covering discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

* Even so, only 57% were found to be fully 'out' at work and 11% were not out to anyone they worked with at all.

Incidence of Registering Grievances

* Only 11% had registered a grievance following discrimination in the workplace on grounds of sexual orientation. Of these, just 48% claimed to be satisfied with the outcome of the grievance procedure.

The Importance of an Anti-discrimination Law Covering Sexual Orientation

* 95% of gay men and lesbians considered it 'very important' to have a law aiming to prevent discrimination in the workplace on grounds of sexual orientation.

* 67% felt they would be more likely to register a sexual orientation grievance if such a law existed.

Perceptions of the Current Draft Regulations

* Panellists were asked to record their views on certain exemptions from protection in the current Draft Regulations that the Stonewall analysis has drawn attention to.

* 71% felt it was 'very important' that work-based benefits and perks available to partners of heterosexual employees should be extended to same-sex partners. Currently, this is not covered by the Regulations.

* 71% believed it was 'completely unreasonable' that where an employer can show a 'genuine occupational requirement' lesbians and gay men can be excluded from employment and training.

* 63% believed it was 'completely unreasonable' that protection from sexual orientation discrimination will not apply where the employer can demonstrate the 'employment is for the purpose of an organised religion'.

* 57% believed it was 'completely unreasonable' that an exemption from protection should exist where an employer can demonstrate 'the nature of the employment and the context in which it is carried out will conflict with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers'.

* 79% believed it was 'completely unreasonable' that protection from sexual orientation discrimination should only cover universities and colleges of further and higher education and not schools.

* On the basis of what panellists knew about the Regulations, 69% did believe that they would be at least to some extent protected from sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace when the law comes into effect. However, 29% were found to be sceptical about its likely overall impact.

Sample Profile

* Gay men comprised 61% of survey participants, with lesbians making up the remaining 39%. A spread of age groups was achieved, with 42% being under and 58% being over the age of 35. Just over half, 52%, was based in the South, with 48% being resident in the rest of the UK. The study was inclusive of a range of types of respondent by ethnic origin/racial identity. As is typical in studies conducted amongst the L&G population, people in social classes B/C1 were heavily represented in the sample. 31% of respondents identified themselves as followers of an organised religion.


, Managing Director of Stormbreak, made the following comments on the research findings:

The current 'official' figure for incidence of homosexuality has been placed at around 5% of the adult UK population. Personally, I would estimate it to be somewhat higher. Our own research indicates that self-identified lesbians and gay men comprise around 7-8% of the adult population. But even using the figure of 5% and, with a UK workforce of approximately 28 million, we can deduce by simple arithmetic that at least 1.4 million people who go to work every day are likely to be lesbians and gay men.

Experience of discrimination in the workplace on grounds of sexual orientation is commonplace. A law protecting lesbians and gay men from discrimination at work will be welcomed by our community. However, employers need to ensure workplace environments become less homophobic and more gay-friendly. A large number of lesbians and gay men are, understandably, not
'out' at work for fear of reprisals.

If people are choosing areas of employment not because they are most suited to their skills, talents and interests but instead because they offer relatively safe environments in which to be gay, not only is this unfair, it is also not good for the economy.

The majority of lesbians and gay men appear to be sceptical of many of the exemptions from protection that are currently included in the Draft Sexual Orientation Discrimination Regulations. Campaigning organisations such as Stonewall have also raised concerns. Such exemptions are likely to seriously weaken the impact of this long-awaited and important piece of legislation.


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