Sexual orientation equality policy

Sexual orientation equality policy

Section A - Policy

1. The University values the principles of equal treatment and respect for individual differences and is committed to understanding, respecting and using diversity. It is determined to ensure that:

  • it provides a supportive and inclusive learning, working and social environment in which everyone feels that they are valued and can work to their potential.
  • all students and staff experience fairness and equity of treatment, and are treated with dignity and respect.
  • the opportunities that it provides are open to all.

Diversity is critical to the achievement of the University’s strategic aims and long-term success.

2. In December 2003 the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations came into force. They apply to all staff and students in higher education and make it unlawful for anyone in the University to discriminate against, directly or indirectly, harass or victimise any member of staff or any student because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. (For definitions of direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and sexual orientation see paragraph 8 below). Any such discrimination, harassment or victimisation carried out by any student or members of staff may result in disciplinary action under the Disciplinary Regulations for Students or the Disciplinary Procedure for all Employees.

3. The University recognises the extent of heterosexist assumptions in society and the existence of homophobia. However, through its formal and informal processes and practices it aims to create an environment in which all staff and students, whatever their sexuality, feel equally welcome and valued.

4. The University will provide a supportive environment for staff or students who wish it to be known that they are lesbian, gay or bisexual. However, it is the right of individuals to choose whether they wish to be open about their sexual orientation. To ‘out’ someone without their permission is a form of harassment and will be treated as such.

5. Where they are under the control of the University, all opportunities, benefits and conditions of service apply equally to all staff, irrespective of their sexual orientation. Where they are not under the control of the University, such as the benefits of pension schemes, benefits may be restricted, for example, to married partners only. Where the University has a choice of a provider of benefits, equal treatment of staff will be one of the criteria for selection.

6. The University welcomes, and will provide appropriate facilities for, lesbian, gay or bisexual student and staff groups.

7. The University is an academic institution committed to the values of open and rational debate. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is absolute. However, any manifestation of beliefs has to take account of the rights and reasonable sensitivities of others. Staff and students will have a range of views on same-sex relationships. This Policy does not infringe anyone’s rights to hold these views but does seek to prevent them being manifested in such a way that intimidates or humiliates, is hostile or degrading, or results in discrimination.

8. For the purposes of this Policy the following definitions apply:

Direct discrimination occurs where a person is treated less favourably than another on grounds of his or her sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.

Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice, which is applied generally, puts persons of a particular sexual orientation (real or perceived) at a disadvantage and cannot be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Harassment occurs where a person is submitted to unwanted conduct on grounds of sexual orientation with the purpose or effect of violating his or her dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him or her.

Victimisation occurs where a person receives less favourable treatment than others by reason of the fact that he or she has brought (or given evidence in) proceedings, made an allegation or otherwise done anything under or by reference to these Regulations.

Sexual Orientation. The statement in the Regulations is that it means a sexual orientation towards a) persons of the same sex (this covers gay men and lesbians); b) persons of the opposite sex (this covers heterosexual men and women); or c) both sexes (this covers bisexual men and women). It is important to note that the Regulations and this Policy protects those who are perceived by others to be of a particular sexual orientation, whether or not they are. The scope of the Regulations and this Policy does not extend to any other sexual preference or to more specific sexual practices.

Heterosexism/ Homophobia. Heterosexism is any prejudice and discrimination against individuals and groups who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or are perceived to be so. It is based on the assumption that everyone is or should be heterosexual. Expressions of dislike, contempt or fear based on heterosexism are usually known as homophobia.

Section B - Implementation

1 Harassment

1.1 It is impossible to provide an inclusive list of actions which may constitute harassment related to sexual orientation. Examples include, name-calling, derogatory jokes, intrusive questions and excessive and inappropriate reference to someone’s sexual orientation. The medium is irrelevant; all such expressions are unacceptable whether oral, in writing, through graffiti, via email or texting. It may be about the individual’s sexual orientation (real or perceived) or it may be about the sexual orientation of those with whom the individual is associated e.g. teasing of someone who is heterosexual about having a gay son.

1.2 Sexual harassment in the form of unwanted sexual advances or similar behaviour is equally unacceptable irrespective of the sexual orientation of the victim or perpetrator.

2 Assumptions

Assumptions should not be made that partners of staff and students are of the opposite sex. If the opportunity for social gatherings is being extended to the partners of staff or students, care should be taken with the wording of invitations, posters etc. to ensure inclusivity.

3 Working and Studying Together

No student or member of staff should be allowed to refuse to work with, or be taught by, or teach someone because of his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation.

4 Raising Concerns

4.1 Any member of staff or any student who feels they are not being treated fairly in accordance with this policy should try to resolve the matter informally by discussion with line managers, tutors or other appropriate members of academic or support staff. All issues should be addressed informally in the first instance. In general, formal proceedings cannot be invoked unless it is evident that an informal approach has first been undertaken. For formal procedures see the staff grievance procedure or Student Complaints Policy and Procedure.

4.2 Any member of staff or any student who feels that they are being harassed because of their sexual orientation should follow the processes outlined in the University’s staff and student anti-harassment procedures.

Support for students who feel they have been harassed is available from the Student Union Advice Centre (Telephone 0114 225 4418.

5 Confidentiality

Personal information relating to someone’s sexual life is defined as ‘sensitive personal data’ in the 1998 Data Protection Act and this means that in most circumstances the consent of the individual is required for that information to be disclosed. This includes information about someone’s sexual orientation. Clearly if someone is openly lesbian, gay or bisexual and makes reference to a same sex partner it is acceptable for others to make a similar reference in appropriate circumstances. However, information given in confidence, including emergency contact details which may suggest a particular sexual orientation, should remain confidential and secure.

6 Information Sources

6.1 A copy of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations is available from the HMSO website. Further information may be obtained from the Equality Challenge Unit.

6.2 Advice about the interpretation of this Policy and guidance may be obtained from your Human Resources Adviser for employment matters or the University Secretariat (Geoff Smith, ext 3854), or the Students' Union Advice Centre (0114 225 4418), for student matters.

7 Monitoring and Reporting

There will be an annual report on the policy and its implementation coordinated by the University Secretariat. Faculties and departments are expected to keep a record of issues which arise related to this policy.


Issuing Authority: University Secretary

Approved by Board of Governors, 13 July 2004

Paper Reference: BG/3/04/10 Minute Reference: 04/42