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Sexuality Harassment - Protected by the Law or Not?

Whether you are "out" at work or not, employers and fellow colleagues can harass, discriminate, and victimize you just because you are (or they think you are), gay; lesbian; bisexual; or transgender. They will openly call you "dyke", "lesbo" and other such terms that we consider being derogatory when they are spouted from heterosexual peoples lips. They may even stretch as far as threatening you or running a hate campaign against you. It's sad to think that people will automatically consider us less than worthy, or out of the ordinary, just because we have same sex relationships - but such discrimination and harassment does exist in the workplace, no matter where you live or what legal protection there is in place.

Focus On the USA Laws
As always, USA laws to protect lesbians against sexuality harassment vary from state to state and often contain loopholes or get outs that prevent cases from being won. Some major cases have been won on the grounds that sexual harassment violates title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; others have been won on the grounds that Equal Opportunities Laws protect employees from sexuality discrimination. However, it is not cut and dry and companies like Lambda Law bring about unique cases and often fight for years to win.

As it stands at the moment only 17 States, the latest being Illinois, have laws that provide protection for gay and lesbian people against discrimination in the workplace. Elsewhere, there is no legal recourse for harassment and people can be fired just because they are a lesbian. It seems as though the USA has a long way to go to bring about equality in the workplace. Women are protected, as are religions, races, and disabilities - so we can only hope that in time every State will see the light and protect gay and lesbian employees, too.

Focus On the UK Laws
Once again, lesbians in the UK have far better protection than lesbians in the USA. If you live in the UK you will be pleased to know that sexual orientation discrimination laws were brought into effect on 1st December which literally bans discrimination because of your sexuality. Since that time successful cases have been brought before the courts where claimants have sued their employers for tens of thousands of pounds because they were being victimized, harassed, or name called because of their sexuality. This really is a heads up to companies in the UK that such discrimination will not be accepted. Unfortunately, such rulings do not trickle down, or are not digested by all members of staff.

What Can You Do If You Are Being Harassed?
Sexuality harassment or discrimination may be considered a laugh or a joke by the instigators but to you, the victim, it can be harrowing. In extreme cases, harassment can lead to suicidal thoughts, or actual attempts at suicide. It the least it can affect your quality of work, make you hate coming to work, make you feel depressed and even make you consider leaving your job just to get away from the harassers or discriminators. However, this should always be your last resort; why should you let people force you to leave when you have just as much right as them to be there. You were hired because your employer saw the potential in you as a worker and your sexuality should not be an issue.

There are a few things you can do to try and protect yourself from sexuality harassment and discrimination:

  1. Ignore Them - You could try ignoring the people who are harassing you. If you show them that you are strong enough and mature enough to rise above their often childish and stupid antics they may get bored and the insults may peter out.
  2. Ask to Stop - If this tactic does not work then try asking them to stop. If you explain to them that being called a "dyke" or being continually harassed just because you have relationships with women hurts you and offends you they may realize the error of their ways and stop.
  3. Keep a Log - If the offenders persist it is important to try and keep a log of dates, times and what was said or what event takes place. If you need to make a company complaint, or if it eventually results in a court case, then you will have to have a log of evidence - and sometimes it can be difficult for you to remember exact dates, times, and comments months after the events took place. Keep a scribble pad, or notebook, in your desk or locker and make detailed notes.
  4. Report - Do not be afraid to report the incidents of discrimination, victimization, or harassment to your immediate boss. If they have any kind of compassion they will deal with the offenders and reprimand them for their behavior. If you feel that you are not getting any results, then do not be afraid to go to higher management, the human resources department or even contact your Union representatives. Additionally, you should also keep a record of the times you have reported incidents to your immediate boss, or other authoritative figures.
  5. Seek Legal Advice - If all else fails, and you are still being harassed, then it is time to seek legal advice. Search for a gay and lesbian lawyer, or solicitor, that will have empathy for your case. In the US you could contact the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association or Lambada Legal for sound and worthwhile advice. In the UK you can contact the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association.

The one thing you should never do is let it slide in the belief that nothing will be done to help you. If your employer won't help protect you from workplace harassment then a legal representative who is sympathetic to your cause will. We should not let other human beings think that they can get away with harassing or victimizing us at work just because we are lesbians. You never know, yours could be the next landmark case!

The following is a poem taken from our eBook, The Big eBook of Gay and Lesbian Poetry. It speaks for many.

The Curb

Population 5,000

That's what the sign says when you drive through my town

They say one out of every ten people is gay

That makes for 500 here

Which ones are they?

I think I have a pretty good idea

In the deli I heard the other boys taunting him

Faggot!

Do you know him?

I heard they stripped him in the locker room

That is not all they stripped of him

His pride

His dignity

Any self worth that he had ended up in the locker

Where they pushed him into

Day after day after day

He never made it to graduation

Not even through the tenth grade

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