What is discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation means a person’s attraction (sexually or romantically) towards the opposite sex (heterosexual), their own sex (homosexual – gay or lesbian) or both sexes (bi-sexual).  Sexual orientation discrimination includes the unfair treatment of an individual because he or she is gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, or heterosexual or is perceived to be.

Although discrimination based on sexual orientation may take place against any person, LGBTI people, specifically, are the most vulnerable to discriminatory practices. That is because there are already deeply-embedded homophobic and transphobic attitudes in many societies, often combined with a lack of adequate legal protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

When can a violation on the grounds of sexual orientation occur?

The prohibition of discrimination may be violated, when certain rights are denied to someone and they are treated differently better or worse than someone else because of their sexual orientation. Moreover, there are different ways in which discrimination can occur, which is not always in a direct and overt manner. Therefore, it is important to recognize different types of discrimination.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation may occur in many areas of life such as employment, education, access to goods and services, housing and activities carried out by public authorities such as government departments, the judiciary and law enforcement agencies.

example Discrimination in an employment context takes place when a person is denied a job at a job interview solely because of his or her sexual orientation, regardless of being the most qualified. In a services context, it is discriminatory to deny a heterosexual person entry to a gay nightclub, or refusing to rent an apartment to a person due to his or her sexual orientation. Discrimination may also occur in situations where a person reports being a victim of a violent incident against them, based on their sexual orientation, and the police refusing to investigate this.

However, one should not immediately assume, especially in an employment context, that a person was treated differently merely because of their sexual orientation. Whether there were any other grounds for the different treatment should be carefully evaluated first. For example, whether the other person was not objectively more qualified to occupy the particular job position or to be promoted.

In this Guide, you can read more about the most common areas of daily life where discriminatory practices may occur.

Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education