Gay… but how butch do you have to be?
The recent case of Mr Kenna, a former Lance Corporal (who is now an actor and television presenter) who claimed he was forced out of the SAS for being gay, highlights just how difficult being a gay man in a “hyper-male” environment can be. Sadly, Mr Kenna’s experience may by no means be unique. The following Q & As address some of the practical and legal issues which arise in these kinds of situations and what you can do should you find yourself in similar circumstances
Who can I turn to if I feel I am being targeted at work because I am gay?
Issues around discrimination can be highly sensitive and can escalate quickly. The best starting point may often therefore be an informal word with a line manager to see if the comments or other behaviour can be “nipped in the bud”. If your line manager is not effective, or if they are themselves the cause of the problem, then a more formal approach using your employer’s grievance procedures may be necessary. If there is an LGTB group associated with your work-place, or you are a member of a trade union with LGBT
representation, this might also be a good source of support.
What are my rights if I feel I am being discriminated against on the grounds of my sexuality but don’t want to openly disclose my sexual orientation?
This raises a practical problem, as it may be difficult to sustain a complaint of discrimination on grounds of sexuality without being open about what your sexuality is. It may be more difficult to show that your sexuality was the reason for the bad treatment if you are not “out,” as those involved can simply deny that they thought you were gay.
How would I prove I am being discriminated against?
The law prohibits less favourable treatment on the grounds of sexual orientation. It would therefore be necessary to show that the treatment you are complaining about is because of your sexuality rather than some other reason (for example a personality clash). The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) recommends keeping notes of conversations which concern you, and keeping correspondence. This can help you show that your sexuality was a factor in the treatment you received, if you do need to take action later.
What steps can I take to stop the discrimination or bullying before it forces me to leave my job?
No-one should ever be forced to leave their job because of discrimination or bullying, and it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that such behaviour is dealt with effectively. Sadly, employers do not always manage such situations well. However, it is important to give them the opportunity to do so, by raising concerns either informally or through the grievance procedure. If you are a member of a trade union, union reps can also be useful in assisting managers to deal with a situation.
What’s the difference between being discriminated against and being harassed?
Harassment is a particular painful and personal form of discrimination involving the undermining of a person’s dignity or creating a hostile, degrading or offensive environment. Homophobic banter in the workplace, for example, could amount to harassment even if not aimed at a particular individual.
It is never easy to be in a minority. Being part of an invisible minority can have its own particular problems, for example being exposed to homophobic jokes or generally being subjected to a hyper-macho heterosexual environment. The legal prohibition against sexual orientation discrimination is still relatively recent. However there are signs that this is already making some difference, and this will hopefully lead over time to a more pervasive change of workplace culture.
Emma Satyamurti is a solicitor in employment law at Russell Jones & Walker
Photo: Chris McKenna