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 because of your sexual orientation.
For example: You are refused the chance to be a prefect on grounds of your sexual orientation.
For example: A gay pupil is told that he cannot go on the school trip as there are no places left. His parents had sent in the deposit as requested by the required date. No other pupils are denied a place on the trip.
Indirect discrimination is where an organisation unjustifiably operates a rule or policy that looks the same for everyone but in effect places people from your particular sexual orientation at a disadvantage.
Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of sexual orientation discrimination in good faith or helped someone else with a complaint under the sexual orientation law and suffered as a result.
For example: A teacher constantly picks on a pupil because she supported another pupil’s sexual orientation harassment claim against a teacher at their college.
Harassment is where a person behaves in a way, on grounds of sexual orientation, which violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
Under the employment sexual orientation law, harassment against employees and office holders in institutions of further and higher education is unlawful. These institutes may also be liable for any discriminatory conduct of their employees towards students on grounds of sexual orientation.
Under the sexual orientation law that prohibits discrimination in the provision of education, harassment is not specifically included, but you can make a complaint under the direct discrimination provisions. However the Education and Libraries Order places specific duties on schools to safeguard and promote the welfare of pupils at all times and to consult with pupils and parents on making changes to disciplinary policies and measure to encourage good behaviour and to prevent bullying.
Over the past three years we have helped 220 people who have experience some form of sexual orientation discrimination. Some of these complaints have come from people who have been treated badly at school or college.
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:
The law does not apply directly to the school curriculum. The courts have held that ‘articulating the orthodox religious view on homosexuality in the classroom does not relate to any access, benefit or detriment’ under the law. However, if it is conveyed in such a manner as to harangue or bully a pupil, or group of pupils this would be unacceptable and could be unlawful under the law.
The Department of Education has produced guidance on Relationships and sexuality (RSE) education in schools. This guidance is being reviewed in 2014.
You are protected from sexual orientation discrimination in education under the following circumstances
The admissions policies of an establishment as regards the terms of admission or if they refuse or deliberately omit to accept an application
As an existing pupil/student you are denied access to classes, courses or other benefits, facilities or services provided by the school or college. For example: a student who is perceived as being gay is told to change separately from other pupils/students.
As an existing pupil/student you are excluded or subjected to any other unfavourable treatment.
What can I do myself?
1. Contact our discrimination advice officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance. Should you decide to take your case to court, you can ask for us to provide legal representation. Remember the need to notify the Department of Education if your complaint concerns certain public sector education.
2. Raise your complaint directly with the education body and seek a resolution. If your complaint relates to homophobic bullying you will find that most schools, colleges and universities will have an anti-bullying/harassment policy which sets out how they will investigate and deal with your complaint and support victims.
3. Go directly to court with your own legal representative to lodge a complaint of discrimination.
How can the Equality Commission help me?
1. We provide advice and assistance.
2. We provide legal representation in a limited number of cases.
Only a court decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600 (10am-4pm, Mon-Fri).