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Are you being bullied at work for being LGBTI?

Practical advice for what you can do if you’re being discriminated against at work

Are you being bullied at work for being LGBTI?
© Tom Wang |
Unhappy at work because you're being bullied?

Do you believe that you’re being bullied or discriminated at work because of your sexuality or gender identity?

No one should have to put up with such behavior, but what exactly you can do about it depends on where you live and whether laws exist to specifically protect you.

We spoke to some experts in the US and UK to find out more. Regardless of where you are based, you’ll hopefully take something from their advice.

Alex Gwynne

Alex Gwynne

Alex Gwynne, Senior Account Manager at Stonewall

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 protects lesbian, gay, bi and trans people from discrimination and/or harassment at work. This means your employer has a responsibility to protect and support you if you are experiencing homophobia, biphobia or transphobia at work.

Every employer should have a policy on how they will respond to reports of bullying and harassment, these may vary in different workplaces, but they should be inclusive of all forms of bullying and harassment.

We would suggest you look through this policy to explore routes available to you for reporting. If your organization does not provide such a policy you can follow the Acas Code of Practice.


Beck Bailey

Beck Bailey

Beck Bailey, Deputy Director of Employee Engagement at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees who are experiencing workplace discrimination are encouraged to follow internal policies for reporting their concerns to management and/or human resources personnel and, when necessary, to seek their own legal counsel.

Often when we think of the words discrimination and harassment we think of actions that are big, overt and blatant. While blatant forms of discrimination do happen, managers should also be on the lookout for subtle forms of discrimination and bias that create unwelcome environments.

For example, daily interactions – ‘watercooler conversations’ – are a regular part of workplace life and serve as opportunities for rapport building between co-workers. However, these seemingly small moments of chitchat between colleagues can also be a source of behavior that chills the environment and prevents full LGBT inclusion.

In HRC’s survey and report, The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion, of LGBT workers report hearing jokes about gay and lesbian people. One of the most common ways for someone to brush off or recover from an offensive statement is to claim it was only a joke.

Yet, jokes are fair indicators of culture and climate; about what acceptable behavior is, and what is fair game for mockery. One unchecked joke or negative remark can be enough to keep someone in the closet.


Jerame Davis

Jerame Davis

Jerame Davis, Executive Director, Pride at Work

If you’re an LGBT person being bullied or harassed on the job, what you can and should do about it depends on the type of place you work. A unionized workplace will always be best for LGBT working people.

A union contract will provide you a clear, defined process for filing complaints and seeking redress from management. You’ll also have a team of advocates who work on your behalf to find the best resolution possible.

In the US, things become a bit more complicated when you work in a non-union workplace, however. Your first stop will be your company’s HR policies to determine if harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity are covered. Then, if such protections exist, you’ll need to determine the process to file a complaint and hope your employer adheres to the policy and treats you fairly; if they refuse to intervene or retaliate against you, it’s possible you could file complaint with the federal government in certain cases.

Of course, if you don’t find a remedy in company policy, state and local laws may offer protections, but ultimately, a unionized workplace will provide the most concrete protections and clearest process for LGBT people experiencing harassment at work.


Emma Cusdin

Emma Cusdin

Emma Cusdin, co-chair of UK-based trans, professional networking group Trans*formation and a senior HR business partner

  • My advice is don’t immediately react to any situation where you’ve felt bullied however angry, outranged or annoyed you feel.
  • Calm down (count to 10, go to the toilet, take a short walk – whatever normally works for you).
  • Do write down what’s just happened, what was said or done, the time, date, who was involved and who else was a witness
  • If this is a series of events then write up a summary of all of the incidents
  • Make sure you keep any written documents such as e-mails, texts or letters.
  • Talk to someone who knows you really well whether this is family or a friend to get their perspective.
  • Check out your company’s policy (if they don’t have one then check out the ACAS bullying at work document)
  • If your business has a LGBT network group and/or union reach out to them and chat it through with them. The LGBT network is a great place to seek advice, guidance and support.
  • Talk to your line manager and/or HR team and agree on the approach to take.
  • Talk to the perpetrator. Stick to the facts, tell them how it made you feel and ask them to stop.
  • If you aren’t able to talk directly to the person then ask someone else to do so on your behalf.


Kate Knapton

Kate Knapton

Kate Knapton, an employment expert from QualitySolicitors Bradbury, Roberts & Raby.

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 provides protection for people who are discriminated against. Unfortunately, though, people continue to report discrimination in the workplace which can include harassment, victimization and failure to be given opportunities afforded to other work colleagues such as promotion.

If you think you are suffering from discrimination due to your sexuality, or because you have made your organization aware that you are planning to, or are going through, or have transitioned then keep notes of what is happening to you.

If you feel able to ask the person who is targeting you to stop then do so. If this is not possible (and for many it is not) then make your organization aware of your problem. You should do this by using your employer’s grievance procedure.

If your organization does not have its own grievance procedure then use the ACAS guide on raising a grievance. Put your grievance in writing and give it to someone you think can help you. When you go to meetings about your grievance take someone with you to support you.

If the worst happens and the problems do not stop remember you have less than three months to begin a claim against your employer. Hopefully though the outcome will be far more positive. Your employer cannot help you if they are not aware of your issues. In some cases employers support their employees in setting up internal associations to support employees from the LGBT community.

Your experiences may ultimately enable you to start such a group and provide support for others.


Peter Purton

Peter Purton

Peter Parton, LGBT policy officer at the Trade Union Congress (TUC)

Bullying and harassment on grounds of being LGB or T (whether you are actually LGBT or not) may be illegal, but it is still the most common problem faced by LGBT workers. This includes homo- or transphobic abuse, comments or ‘jokes’, intimate questioning about your life, gossip by others about you, exclusion from social groups and physical intimidation. The TUC recommends:

  • Don’t accept it and don’t accept excuses like ‘it’s just banter’.
  • Write down what has happened with dates/times, and who witnessed it. Keep a diary if incidents continue.
  • Talk – in confidence – to your union representative or a trusted friend.
  • Check your employer’s policy on bullying/harassment – they should have one – and how to make a complaint.
  • If you feel strong enough, and confident enough it could make a positive difference, you could ask the culprit to stop. If you do this, have a witness present. If it doesn’t stop, or if for any reason you don’t want to do this, go to the next step.
  • With support from your union rep, make a complaint using the employer’s procedure. This should be confidential.
  • Take your rep or a friend/colleague to any meetings with managers and keep your own record of what happens.
  • Remember that if the bullying continues after you’ve made the complaint, it is your employer’s responsibility and you can take a case for harassment to an employment tribunal.
  • Many unions have their own LGBT networks and you might contact them for advice and support.

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