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Homophobia and Sexism
The Fight against Homophobia
It would definitely be far from the truth to say the problem of homophobia did not exist throughout the UK. There have unfortunately been a number of much-publicized cases of homophobic discrimination, violence and even deaths in recent years. The LGBT interest and support group Stonewall has compiled an overview of the discrimination the LGBT community faces in the UK on a daily basis. But between the extensive LGBT communities in every large conurbation, the favorable public attitudes towards them, and new legislation on the way, conditions for LGBT expats in the UK are certainly satisfactory, albeit not perfect.
The chances of your being discriminated against because of your sexual orientation are low, both in the workplace and in your leisure time. However, homophobic resentment does exist, and while you are not in any constant danger to be harassed, there is a chance it might happen. If anything of that sort should occur, do not hesitate to inform the police about the incident. Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, crimes motivated by homophobia can incur tougher sentences in court. Some police forces also have LGBT liaison officers whose specific job it is to support and assist the local LGBT community; they might be a good contact person in case you are discriminated against, and will be happy to help you.
Same-Sex Marriage Divides a Nation
Homosexual couples across the whole of the UK have been able to enter so-called civil partnerships since late 2005. These partnerships come with most, but not all, rights and responsibilities of civil marriage. It was stated explicitly time and again that civil partnerships were neither legally nor practically marriages, and the limitations of civil partnerships were cause for quite some irritation and calls for true equality.
In July 2013, legislation to make marriage possible for same sex couples in England and Wales was approved by parliament and received Royal Assent — a landmark success for the LGBT rights movement in the UK. The approval of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 paved the way for the first civil and religious gay marriage ceremonies to take place starting mid-2014. In Scotland swiftly followed suit, passing their own same-sex marriage bill in February 2014.
Furthermore, couples who have previously entered a civil partnership may now convert their relationship into a marriage, enabling them to get rid of the much criticized inequalities between the two unions if they opt to do so. Many already have and the chances are that many more will follow suit. Northern Ireland will not introduce any legislation allowing for same-sex marriage in the foreseeable future.
Sexism is Still an Issue…
The problem of sexism in the UK might not be a systematic one (apart from the notable exception of the much-lamented income gap that exists in most Western societies), but that does not make it nonexistent. Before the law, of course, men and women are equal in the UK, thanks to the efforts of undaunted women throughout the past centuries. In the media, the public space, or in pubs and clubs, however, women are still being objectified on a daily basis. Women who become victims of sexism are frequently either told to get a sense of humor and be less sensitive, or considered to have provoked sexist behavior due to their own actions.
…But the Law Is Fighting Back
Sex discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace are against the law, and you have every right to fight back if you become a victim of such behavior. In broad terms, any unwanted and unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature constitutes harassment in a legal sense. It can be verbal (for example, in the form of indecent remarks, questions, or demands), nonverbal (for example, staring at a person’s body or displaying sexually explicit material at the workplace), and physical.
If you become the victim of such behavior in the workplace, you should not hesitate to confront the person harassing you and keep a diary of the time, date, and nature of the incident. If the problem continues, there are several actions you can take, ranging from talking to your HR department to formal complaints to your employer. The Citizens Advice Bureau offers a fact sheet that is recommended reading if you wish to know more about the topic of sex discrimination in the workplace and how to tackle it.
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