LGBT people and public services

A good practice guide from Stonewall Scotland

Case study One — The problem with making assumptions

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Learning Points

Even before they have contacted the housing office, Jo and Linzi are making an assumption that they will encounter a problem. This assumption is something that organisations can tackle easily by making a public commitment to equality and diversity, such as making a clear equal opportunities statement and displaying diverse posters or advertising materials.

Fear of discrimination means that service users often don't want to put themselves on the line – they will often hear stories about friends who have had a bad experience and not want to risk it happening to them. Even if your service is really vital for their needs, they may opt out of engaging if they are not confident.

In a recent Stonewall Scotland survey, Your Services Your Say, a third of LGBT people would be uncomfortable being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity when using housing services. More than a quarter of LGBT people would expect to face discrimination from a housing officer if they were applying for social housing.

Day to day 'low level' discrimination can have a big impact on LGBT people's lives. Whether it's homophobic stories in the media, overhearing homophobic, biphobic or transphobic banter on the bus, or seeing discriminatory graffiti in their neighbourhood, all of these incidents create a layered effect where an individual can expect discrimination from just about anywhere.

Making assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity can cause upset and will send the wrong message to LGBT people who hear them. The housing officer apparently is not aware of, or considering, LGBT issues. This makes it more difficult for the couple to come out, as they do not know whether the reaction will be negative and will usually assume the worst.

Nearly a third (31 per cent) of LGBT people who have used housing services have experienced staff making incorrect assumptions about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Two in five LGBT people who have used housing services also feel that they don’t provide enough information relevant to LGBT issues. (Your Services Your Say)

Assumptions are made all the time and the more assumptions in any situation, the worse the individual is likely to feel and the less they are likely to feel that they can come out. As the housing association have not given the couple any indications that they are LGBT inclusive, they are worried about having to come out in order to get the desired outcome. They are apprehensive as they have no idea how the officer will react to them when they tell her that they are a gay couple.

Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than another in a similar situation on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity, such as a same-sex couple being refused a one bedroom property from their housing provider when opposite-sex couples are being given one bedroom houses.

Indirect discrimination occurs when a rule or practice is applied across the board, but as a result of doing so it discriminates against LGBT people. Such a rule amounts to discrimination only if the service cannot reasonably justify it by reference to matters other than the person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

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