Being Gay at Work: Pride and Progress

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In July 2017, the Government launched a national survey of LGBT people. The survey received more than 108,000 responses, making it the largest national survey of its kind anywhere in the world.  

Some of the most important findings: 

  • 23% of survey respondents employed in the 12 months preceding the survey had experienced a negative or mixed reaction from others in the workplace due to either being LGBT or thought to be LGBT 
  • 11% of those in work had experienced a negative reaction in the 12 months preceding the survey due to someone disclosing that they were LGBT without their permission, 11% due to other inappropriate comments or conduct, and 9% due to verbal harassment, insults or other hurtful comments 
  • 70% of respondents that had experienced a negative incident in work in the preceding 12 months said the most serious incident was not reported, primarily because they had thought it would not be worth it, or that nothing would happen or change 

At the time the Government said it was ‘committed to taking bold action on the results of the survey’ and published an ‘LGBT Action Plan’ that explained how they would ‘advance the rights of LGBT people both at home and abroad and improve the way that public services work for them’.

Now, one year on, a statement issued by the Government’s Equality Office in July 2018 reads:

“This Government is committed to making the UK a country that works for everyone. We want to strip away the barriers that hold people back so that everyone can go as far as their hard work and talent can take them.  The UK today is a diverse and tolerant society. We have made great strides in recent decades to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, who make a vital contribution to our culture and to our economy.”   

It’s clear that the issue remains high on the Government agenda, and equally clear that the country still has some way to go. 

In January 2018 Stonewall released its annual index of Britain’s top 100 employers for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) staff, with employees from some of the top-ranked workplaces sharing their stories with the BBC.

The index showed that a quarter of the top 20 indexed companies were law firms, where one worker stated that working for a previous employer had been “like working with your hands behind your back” and said “the cost of having to hide the fact you are LGBT is really significant. It’s draining, creates bad energy, and all of that is lost productivity.”  

He said seeing LGBT people who are out and well-regarded in senior positions is “a real enabler”. But he was also aware that role models are not enough, which is why he has taken part in discussion sessions with colleagues. 

Another worker who wanted to remain anonymous said: “I’ve worked in the private sector in the past and was always very wary of my sexuality and not overly open about it,” and went on to say there is “no question about who I am” and that her sexuality was neither something she needed to be worried about or hide. 

With Pride celebrations continuing to grow – the London Pride alone saw 30,000 march in the parade, cheered on by 1m well-wishers – being gay at work remains a topic that all employers should be actively considering and planning for.

The legislation governing sexuality and discrimination in the workplace

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees, job seekers and trainees because of their sexual orientation. For example, an employer not promoting an employee purely because they are gay is likely to be discrimination. 

The Act defines sexual orientation as: 

  • orientation towards people of the same sex[***] (lesbians and gay men) 
  • orientation towards people of the opposite sex[***] (heterosexual) 
  • orientation towards people of the same sex[***] and the opposite sex[***] (bisexual)

The law applies equally whether someone is a lesbian, gay man, heterosexual or bisexual. 

If you have concerns about equality at workplace, please contact the Advice Line team on [email protected] or call 0845 073 0240. 

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