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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, including bullying you, because of your sexual orientation or what they think your sexual orientation might be.

A young person with cropped purple hair kisses their girlfriend on the cheek. In the background a rainbow LGBTIQ flag can be seen.

Photo by Jana Sabeth on Unsplash

What is sexual orientation discrimination?

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

Sexual orientation means your emotional, affectional, and sexual attraction, or intimate and sexual relations with, people of a different gender, the same gender, or more than one gender.

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:

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, duty holders (such as employers, schools, and goods and service providers) have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation in these areas, as far as possible.

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.

Change or suppression (conversion) practices

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 bans practices that aim to change or suppression someone’s sexual orientation (or gender identity).

Change or suppression practices can be religious, or faith based, and can also include counselling, psychotherapy, and support groups.

Read about how this law can protect your right to be yourself, and how to make a report under this law.

Sexual orientation discrimination at work

Over half of sexual orientation discrimination complaints that come to us are work related (54.2% in 2020-21).

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.

To ensure they are complying with the positive duty, organisations should 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 Charter rights, including the right to equality, 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.

How other laws protect your right to be yourself

Change or suppression (conversion) practices

It’s against the law for someone to try to change or suppress – or get you to change or suppress – your sexual orientation or gender identity, even if you ask for help to do so. Read more about these practices and how to make a report.

Related resources

Pride not Prejudice: Short film series – 2016

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Address
Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

General enquiries
enquiries@veohrc.vic.gov.au

Reception
1300 891 848

Enquiry line
1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

Interpreters
1300 152 494

NRS Voice Relay
1300 555 727 then use 1300 292 153

Media enquiries
0447 526 642

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission stands on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung Peoples of the Kulin Nation. We recognise their cultures, histories, diversity and deep connection to this land and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.

Sovereignty has never been ceded – this land always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.