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Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.

Sexual orientation

Service related problem
Sexual orientation

Have I been discriminated against because of my sexual orientation?

If you have been treated unfairly because of your sexual orientation or your perceived sexual orientation, this may be unlawful.

You are covered by the law if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight. 

The law also covers individuals who are treated worse than others due to incorrect assumptions about their sexual orientation or because they associate with people of a particular sexual orientation. 

Is all sexual orientation discrimination the same?

No, there are different types of sexual orientation discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.

The main forms are:

  • Direct discrimination is where you are treated worse than others, on grounds of your sexual orientation.  When a service provider:
- Refuses or deliberately fails to provide a service
- Provides a service of a lower quality, in a worse manner or on worse terms than is normally the case

For example:  A same-sex couple is asked to leave a restaurant because they are holding hands and the restaurant manager says their behaviour is making other customers uncomfortable. Heterosexual couples who are holding hands are not asked to leave.

For example: A gay man rents an apartment from a private landlord.  As part of the agreement, he is charged an extra annual fee on top of his rent for use of his parking space.  Other tenants are not charged this extra fee.


  • Indirect discrimination is where a service provider unjustifiably operates a rule or policy that looks the same for everyone but in effect disadvantages people from your sexual orientation group.

For example: An insurance company refuses to provide its services to customers who have had an HIV test.  This could amount to indirect sexual orientation discrimination as gay men may be perceived as more likely to have had such tests than heterosexual men, women and lesbians.


  • Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of sexual orientation discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint about a service provider under the sexual orientation law, and suffered as a result.

For example: A woman agrees to give evidence in a case being taken by a lesbian who has been repeatedly refused appointments at a health spa. When the woman next tries to make an appointment for herself, her request is refused by the manager who says that they don’t offer their services to troublemakers.


  • Harassment is not specifically included in the law, but you can make such a complaint under the direct discrimination provisions.

How am I protected against sexual orientation discrimination?

You are protected from sexual orientation discrimination in the provision of a wide range of services whether they are paid for or free of charge.

They include:
  • Access to public places
  • Facilities for education – admissions to schools / or discrimination against existing pupils or excluding pupils/students or subjecting them to any other detriment. 
  • Housing/accommodation
  • Health
  • Getting or using services such as:

– Financial services – Banking / Insurance
– Government departments
– Entertainment
– Transport

  • Professional or trade services

However, there are very limited circumstances where sexual orientation discrimination is allowed. These relate to:

  • the activities of religious organisations
  • disposal and management of small premises
For example: The owner of a four bed-roomed detached house has converted two bedrooms into bed-sit accommodation for two people.  As the owner continues to live in the house with their family, the house satisfies the laws definition of small premises.
  • private clubs, associations and charities set up for people of a particular sexual orientation may be allowed to discriminate in some circumstances.

For example: A club is established to enable gay and bisexual men to form friendships and provide mutual support.


What are my options?

1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance to help you resolve your issue.

2. Raise your complaint directly with the service provider and seek a resolution.

3. If a resolution is not reached and you wish to take your case further we may be able to provide you with legal representation. You must lodge your complaint of discrimination with the County Court.

NB: Only a County Court decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.


Contact us
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600.


Useful publications


Time limits apply

Remember there are strict time limits for taking a case of sexual orientation discrimination. Complaints relating to services must be made to the court within six months of the discriminatory act.

Even if you are attempting to resolve problems, the statutory time limits still apply.  You may wish to issue proceedings to protect your legal interests if the matter has not resolved close to the expiry of the time limit.

If your time limit has expired the tribunal has discretion to extend the time for you to lodge your claim; this is used sparingly and it is unwise to assume that an extension will be granted.

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Ask for advice
If you require information or advice please complete our online form. All information you submit is confidential – and if you wish to be contacted by us, please let us know the best way for you. You don’t have to share any personal information with us – we will not be able to identify you if that is your preference.

Make a discrimination complaint
We may be able to provide you with legal assistance. If you want to find out more, please use our discrimination complaint form complaint form to tell us the nature of your discrimination complaint and whether it is related to your age, disability, gender, race, religious belief/political opinion or sexual orientation.

Tell us what happened and we will contact you to talk through your complaint further.

SoMe - Sexual orientation More equality
We recognise there is an under reporting of sexual orientation discrimination and have developed a dedicated presence on social media to raise awareness of rights and how to take action:

So Me logo

SoMe (Sexual orientation More equality):


Equality Commission NI
Alternatively, contact us:

Telephone: 028 90 500 600

Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast  BT2 7DP

We have listed below current legislation relevant to sexual orientation discrimination. You should note that equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated. The law is also complex and can require interpretation. Please feel free to contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: or tel: 028 90 500 600.

Main law:

Amending laws:


Vincent & David's Story

Vincent and David, a gay couple, suffered regular attacks on their home.  They felt they did not receive equal treatment when they reported these incidents and were distressed that the PSNI did not take reasonable steps to prevent further attacks. With the Commission’s help Vincent and David brought a case to the County Court alleging unlawful discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, harassment and victimisation.

Their case was settled without admission of liability and the PSNI agreed to pay them £5,000 damages each plus costs.  The PSNI have introduced improvements in the handling of all hate incidents including awareness and training to ensure that people who report hate crimes are dealt with in a sensitive and understanding manner.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

Darren's Story

Darren and his partner, who are gay, were travelling on a bus in Belfast on Christmas Eve.  There were very few people on the bus and they began to kiss.  Darren alleged that the driver told them their behaviour offended him and asked them to stop.  Darren asked whether he would be offended if a guy kissed a girl.  When another passenger began to verbally abuse Darren he felt frightened and decided to walk away from the incident.  He alleged the driver followed him off the bus shouting at him.  The incident was reported to Citybus and to the police.

Darren received £1,100 in settlement of his case.  Citybus also took action against the driver and apologised for his behaviour. 

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

Tony's Story

Tony, who is gay, was married for ten years and has two children.  He is now in a same-sex relationship.  During a parent-teacher meeting at his son’s playschool, Tony raised concerns about a comment made to his son by a member of staff that “boys don’t kiss boys”.

Unhappy with the school’s response, he contacted the Commission for help.  He was granted legal assistance but following a meeting between Tony, the school and the Commission’s legal team the matter was resolved without the need to go to court.

Tony received an apology from the member of staff concerned and a commitment from the school to undertake training and review their policies.  He declined a settlement payment from the school.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements


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