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Sexual orientation discrimination

This advice applies to Wales

The Equality Act 2010 says you mustn’t be discriminated against because you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual. This is called discrimination because of sexual orientation.

Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about discrimination because of sexual orientation.

What’s meant by sexual orientation?

If you want to make a discrimination claim, you need to find out if you’re someone who mustn’t be discriminated against under the Equality Act 2010.

The Equality Act says it’s only unlawful discrimination if you’re treated unfairly because of certain reasons. These reasons are called protected characteristics. Sexual orientation is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act.

Sexual orientation is when you’re sexually attracted to:

  • people of you’re own sex – when you’re gay or lesbian
  • people of the opposite sex – when you’re heterosexual
  • people of both sexes – when you’re bisexual.

Example

You’re refused entry to a gay bar because you’re heterosexual. This is unlawful discrimination because of your sexual orientation.

Example

You’re asked to get off the bus by the driver because you’re holding hands with your lesbian partner. She wouldn’t have asked a heterosexual couple to leave the bus. This is unlawful discrimination because of your sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation and gender reassignment

Sexual orientation is different from gender reassignment. If you’ve been treated unfairly because you’re a transsexual person, this is unlawful discrimination because of gender reassignment. But, if the reason you’re treated unfairly is because- for example, you’re gay, it’s discrimination because of sexual orientation.

Discrimination because of someone else’s sexual orientation

It’s unlawful to discriminate against you because of the sexual orientation of someone you’re with or someone you know. This could be a parent, child, partner or friend.

This is called discrimination by association.

Example

Your son is refused a place at a private school when the head teacher hears you’re gay. This is unlawful discrimination against your son because of your sexual orientation.

Discrimination because of who someone thinks you are

It’s unlawful if someone discriminates against you because they think you’re of a particular sexual orientation even though you’re not. This is called discrimination by perception.

Example

You’re heterosexual and about to start your degree at University. You apply for a place in an all-female hall of residence. The accommodation officer thinks you’re gay and refuses to offer you a place as she thinks the other students are going to feel uncomfortable living with a lesbian woman. This is unlawful discrimination because of sexual orientation by perception.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

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