Summary of legislation
Existing Sexual Orientation Discrimination Legislation
There is existing legislation which outlaws discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation within employment, vocational training and further and higher education: Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. While these have been very important in ensuring equality of opportunity for individuals whatever their sexual orientation, they are limited to employment and training. Guidance on the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 can be downloaded from the publications/sexual orientation section on our website.
Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006
The government introduced a new law on 1 January 2007 to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities, services, premises, education and public functions.
Why is a new law needed?
There are no official statistics in relation to the number of gay, lesbian or bisexual people in Northern Ireland. However, research conducted by the HM Treasury shows that between 5% - 7% of the UK population identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or ´trans´ ((transsexual, transgendered and transvestites) (LGBT)). This is a sizeable proportion of the population here in Northern Ireland.
Research carried out in Northern Ireland this year has demonstrated that gay, lesbian and bisexual people experience discrimination in a whole variety of everyday situations. It was found that 41.1% had experienced homophobia when accessing goods, facilities and services (McNamee 2006). For example, 36% experienced homophobia when visiting bars in Northern Ireland.
Research has also repeatedly shown that gay, lesbian and bisexual pupils are more frequently bullied and harassed at school because of their sexual orientation. One study reported that 72% of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults reported a regular history of absenteeism at school due to homophobic harassment (Rivers, 2000).
These statistics give clear evidence to show that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation does happen to individuals when accessing everyday services.
The facts about this new law - an overview
On 1 January 2007 regulations were introduced which make it unlawful for service providers to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services.
Almost all service providers will be covered regardless of size whether they are in the public, private or voluntary sector. It will not matter whether the services are paid for or are free of charge.
Examples of service providers that will be affected by the regulations include shops, restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues, education, housing and government departments.
The only exemption from the legislation is for some activities of religious organisations where the sole purpose is to:
- practice a religion or belief
- advance a religion or belief
- teach the principles of a religion or belief
- enable persons of a religious belief to engage in any activity or receive a benefit within the framework of that religion or belief.
The exemption is not extended to religious organisations whose sole or main purpose is commercial.
The types of discrimination covered under the regulations are:
- Direct Discrimination
- Indirect Discrimination
Discrimination complaints under the regulations must be made within 6 months of the act of discrimination taking place and will be heard in a County Court.
Who has rights?
Sexual orientation means an individual´s sexual orientation towards:
- people of the same sex (gay or lesbian)
- people of the opposite sex (heterosexual)
- people of both sexes (bisexual)
The new law applies to everyone, whether they are lesbians, gay men, heterosexual or bisexual. Everyone has rights. However, it is predominately people who are gay, lesbian and bisexual who have experienced discrimination in the past and that this law aims to protect.
The legislation also protects people who are discriminated against because of their perceived sexual orientation or because of their association with someone with a particular sexual orientation, for example, a child whose parents are gay or lesbian.
The Business Case
Britain´s 3 million gay and lesbian citizens earned over £70 billion last year. Coupled with the fact that gay and lesbian households have fewer children, this community have a greater disposable income to spend. Therefore there is a clear business case for organisations to welcome and encourage customers regardless of sexual orientation.
Businesses have much to gain by opening their doors to the gay, lesbian and bisexual community: it makes good business sense to have a range of clientele as diverse as society itself. Embracing diversity and promoting equality of opportunity will only serve to welcome and encourage more customers.
It affects us all!
One of the most striking things about the sexual orientation GFS regulations is that it affects us all. We all have a sexual orientation be it gay, lesbian, heterosexual or bisexual and it is possible that we may be treated less favourably because of this. While it is recognised that people who are gay, lesbian and bisexual are disproportionately discriminated against because of their sexuality, everyone has something to gain from this legislation.