Daniel Parker: LGBT employment equality – the journey so far


With a particularly significant Pride Month having taken place this June, marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, one might be forgiven for looking to the past and taking stock, with a critical eye, of decades of change for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people in the workplace.

This is especially pertinent as LGBT charity Stonewall found in its LGBT in Britain: Work report, published in April 2018, that 35% of LGBT staff had hidden their identity at work in the preceding 12 months, in order to avoid discrimination.

This is not to deny that there has been substantial progress in the workplace for LGBTQ employees over the past five decades, especially when compared with the open hostility which was commonplace, and implicitly endorsed by the law, only decades ago.

The first wave of discrimination legislation in the UK was introduced in the 1970s, in large part due to the influence of what is now the EU; this moved formal legal protection forward for women and ethnic minorities. Although real change would still take time for those groups, LGBTQ employees received no specific protections whatsoever.

In the decades which followed, progress was sporadic and often only symbolic, such as the lifting of the ban on gay and lesbian civil servants in the diplomatic service of the Foreign Office in 1991.

Attempts to argue generous interpretations of sex discrimination protections were largely unsuccessful. Indeed, it may surprise some to recall that discrimination against individuals on the grounds either of gender reassignment or their sexual orientation was not specifically unlawful in an employment context until 1999 and 2003, respectively.

This vital step forward in the law has been confirmed and built upon in the Equality Act 2010. As ever, though, legislation cannot be the whole answer.

This especially poignant anniversary should remind us all how recent such victories are and that, in a world where 35% of LGBTQ employees still feel compelled to hide their identities, the push for equality is not over yet.

Daniel Parker is associate in the employment team at Winckworth Sherwood