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LGBT+ history month and workplace discrimination

"Why do we need LGBT+ history month?" "Who cares about someone's sexuality or gender identity?" "We have the Equality Act to protect individuals from discrimination - what more do we need?"

Familiar questions from those who believe harassment and discrimination is no longer an issue, so why do we still come across it in the workplace? According to Stonewall’s Work Report which looks at this issue, almost 20% of LGBT+ people had faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity while trying to get a job, while the same percentage of people report having been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Treatment can vary from derogatory remarks, exclusion from activities or promotion opportunities, with a much smaller, yet alarming, percentage of people reporting they had been physically attacked in the workplace by either a colleague or customer.

But most would agree that we have come a long way. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that employment rights regarding sexual orientation and gender identity began to evolve to where they are today. A key milestone in this evolution was the abolition of Section 28. For those of you fortunate enough to have been educated in a post Section 28 era, this part of the Local Government Act 1988 made it unlawful for local authorities to:

  • Intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality; and
  • Promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

This legislation was in place between 1988 and 2003 and, according to BBC reporter Harvey Day, had a devastating impact on the education schools were able to provide. By pushing these issues underground, many young people grew up in circumstances where they became disenfranchised and isolated, and without the belief that they properly belonged to society. Day reported that bullying in schools on the basis of sexuality was rife and the homophobic abuse that individuals suffered has stayed with them.

Perhaps then we shouldn’t be surprised that Stonewall report that more than a third of LGBT+ people are worried about being harassed or discriminated against in the workplace. Given that a fifth of people report that they do suffer harassment or discrimination, sadly these fears are not wholly unfounded.

This is where celebrations such as Pride and LGBT+ History Month come in. The aim of LGBT+ History Month is to raise awareness of the issues faced in order to promote equality and diversity, and this includes within the workplace.

What can you do as an employer?

“The best employers recognise the value in taking proactive steps to create inclusive workplace environments. But, all too often, LGBT+ employees still face barriers including little confidence in bullying reporting procedures, a lack of visible support for LGBT+ equality and inadequate policies” (Stonewall).

Many employers are giving careful thought and dedicating time and resource to create a more supportive and inclusive workplace. The focus on diversity and inclusion is a key area for development for most companies, and in 2021 it is not something that can be ignored.

Some practical things employers can do include:

  • developing clear policies
  • supporting staff through training
  • improving trans inclusion
  • recruiting and promoting diverse candidates
  • monitoring staff diversity, and
  • providing visible support to LGBT+ role models.

Most employers would agree that more needs to be done in tackling inclusion and diversity in the workplace, and that there are clear benefits to their organisations in doing so. Join us for a series of discussions where we pick up on all these points and more as we speak to a number of contributors with first-hand knowledge in this area. This includes employers who are further along than most on this journey and are able to share their practical guidance and insights, such as Stonewalls’ top LGBT+ inclusive employer Newcastle City Council, as well as Stonewall’s Head of Empowerment Team Sarah Campbell.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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