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Sexual orientation

Love is love. Everyone should be treated equally regardless of their sexuality. It is against the law for someone to treat you unfairly or bully you because of your sexual orientation or what they think your sexual orientation might be.

What is sexual orientation discrimination?

Sexual orientation discrimination is when someone treats you unfairly or bullies you because of your sexual orientation or what they assume your sexual orientation to be.

Sexual orientation means your sexuality, which is determined by the sex of your preferred sexual partners. It includes homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and heterosexuals.

Examples of sexual orientation discrimination

  • The coach of a local basketball team telling a player that her girlfriend shouldn’t come along to games to cheer her on.
  • A manager asking a staff member not to talk about his boyfriend at work because it makes the manager feel uncomfortable.
  • A venue refusing to take a booking for a same-sex wedding reception.
  • A landlord asks a property manager to say that their flat for lease has been taken if a lesbian or gay couple ask about renting it.

How does the law protect me?

Discrimination is against the law if it happens in an area of public life such as:

People who work in these areas have a positive duty to make sure you don’t face discrimination.

It is also against the law to victimise a person, which means treat them badly, because they have made complaint about discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint.

You can make a complaint

Get help from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

You can make a complaint to us if you think you have experienced:

If you wish, someone else can make a complaint for you.

Find out how the Commission helps people resolve complaints.

We can also give you information about your rights.

Sexual orientation discrimination at work

The majority of sexual orientation discrimination complaints that come to us are work related (69.4 per cent in 2018-19).

While a person is responsible for their own unlawful behaviour, employers can also be held responsible.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, employers have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

Victoria is unique in having a positive duty, which creates an opportunity to prevent unlawful behaviour. It helps organisations put a healthy workplace culture in place, just as occupational health and safety laws require employers to take appropriate steps to ensure injuries don’t occur.

Organisations must also put measures in place to ensure that complaints are responded to swiftly and appropriately when they do arise.

The positive duty applies to employers of all sizes, regardless of whether they are a major company or a small cafe, and covers all types of workers:

  • full-time, part-time and casual employees
  • agents and contract workers
  • trainees and apprentices.

It applies to all stages of employment, including:

Examples of sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace

  • A staff member repeatedly putting postcards of nude men on his gay co-worker’s desk. This could also be sexual harassment.
  • A company repeatedly passing over a lesbian staff member for promotion, even though she is best qualified for the role.
  • A school principal advising a male staff member not to let the students find out that he is in a same-sex relationship.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

There are some exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act that mean it’s not against the law to discriminate in particular circumstances. For example, discrimination is not against the law if there is a real risk to someone’s health, safety or property.

Find out more about exceptions.

My human rights under the Charter

Every Victorian has the right to equal and effective protection against discrimination, and to enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities contains 20 basic rights that promote and protect the values of freedom, respect, equality, and dignity.

The Victorian Government, local councils and other public authorities must always consider these rights when they create laws, develop policies and deliver their services.

Find out more about your human rights under the Charter and what to do if you think they have been breached.

Related resources

Pride not Prejudice: Short film series – 2016