Sexual Orientation

The protected characteristic of sexual orientation is defined as being a person’s sexual orientation towards:

  • people of the same sex as him or her (in other words the person is a gay man or a lesbian)
  • people of the opposite sex from him or her (the person is heterosexual)
  • people of both sexes (the person is bisexual).

The Act protects bisexual, gay, heterosexual and lesbian people from direct and indirect discrimination and harassment – whether it is perceived, actual or associated.


In responding to his invitation to his graduation ceremony, a student provides the name of his civil partner as attending.  The university informs the student that his partner will be unable to attend as the decision has been made to limit places to spouses due to a shortage of space at the venue.  This is likely to be direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.


At a job interview, an applicant mentions she has a same sex partner. Although she is the most qualified candidate, the employer decides not to offer her the job. This decision treats her less favourably than the successful candidate, who is a heterosexual woman. If the less favourable treatment of the unsuccessful applicant is because of her sexual orientation, this would amount to direct discrimination.


A course coordinator at a university does not offer a placement at a Catholic primary school to a student on a teaching course because they think he is gay and are worried that the school will be ‘uncomfortable’ with a gay student.  Despite the fact that the student is not gay, this would still be direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team (email: or tel: 0117 33 18087) can provide specific advice to colleagues on this area of equality, as it applies to staff and students.