Code of Practice on Sexual Orientation


Since December 2003 it has been illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of their sexual orientation (or sexuality) in employment and vocational training and education. The Civil Partnership Act came into force on 5th December 2005, enabling same sex couples to legally register their partnerships. This gives parity of treatment in a wide range of legal matters with those opposite sex couples who enter into a civil marriage.

1 Principles

In line with the University’s Equal Opportunities Policy Statement this Code of Practice operates on the following principles:

Aston University values all of its staff and students equally, regardless of their sexual orientation and aims to create an environment in which all staff and students feel equally welcome, valued and respected.

It recognises the extent of heterosexist assumptions in society, and through its Equal Opportunities policies and procedures it seeks to ensure that everyone is treated with equal dignity and respect whatever their sexuality.

The University acknowledges its legal responsibilities to both staff and students under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. It will not discriminate directly or indirectly against members of the University Community on the basis of their sexual orientation. Sexual orientation, under the law, refers to orientation towards persons of the same sex, the opposite sex or both sexes. Further, the University acknowledges the rights of same sex partners.

2 Privacy and Confidentiality

The University aims to provide a supportive environment for all staff and students who identify as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual (LGB). However, it is the right of individuals to choose whether they wish to be open about their sexuality within the University. To 'out' someone, whether staff or student, without their permission is a form of harassment and may constitute direct discrimination under the law. Gossip and speculation about the sexual orientation of staff or students is not appropriate within the University community. It is important not to assume that because an individual has informed one person of their sexual orientation that they have also informed others or that they wish their private life to be known to others.

3 Harassment and Bullying

In Law, harassment is defined as unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of:

a) violating dignity or

b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment

Harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation contravenes the University’s Prevention of Harassment Policy. Homophobic abuse or bullying (for example, but not limited to, name-calling, inappropriate use of language, derogatory jokes, unacceptable or unwanted behaviour, intrusive questions) is a serious disciplinary offence and will be dealt with under the appropriate procedure. The University undertakes to raise the awareness of staff and students of the appropriate use of language through training and information updates.

Homophobic behaviour, in the forms of written materials, graffiti, songs or speeches will not be tolerated. In this document the term homophobic also refers to lesophobic and biphobic behaviour. The University undertakes to put a stop to any such activities and to take action against those responsible.


Harassment and bullying will not be tolerated from staff, students or visitors to the University. Where staff or students feel that they have been harassed or bullied because of their sexual orientation they are encouraged to contact a harassment adviser. Details of how to do this can be found on the University website at:  http://www.aston.ac.uk/staff/hr/equalops/policies/harassmentpolicy/ .

4 Employment issues

The University will ensure, through its employment policies and procedures, that it does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the recruitment, selection, training, reward, promotion, discipline or dismissal of staff. This also applies beyond the term of employment, for example, in the provision of references.

Recruitment and Selection

In accordance with the Recruitment and Selection Code of Practice the University will ensure that decisions are made strictly in accordance with objective criteria.

Recognition of partnerships

The University will not make assumptions that partners of staff are of a different sex. The University will make every effort to ensure that workplace benefits will apply equally to same-sex partners as to different sex partners, whether or not their partnerships are recognised in law. This will apply, for example, to all of the University’s Work/Life Balance Policies.


As part of its equal opportunities monitoring the University does not currently collect data on staff in relation to sexual orientation and is not legally required to do so. However, this will be reviewed regularly in consultation with staff. One proposal is that data should be collected strictly on a voluntary basis.

Training, Development and Awareness

LGB issues will be included in all equality training and awareness-raising. The focus will be on legal responsibilities and good practice within a Higher Education setting.

Implementation and Responsibilities

All line managers are responsible for familiarising themselves with this Code of Practice and ensuring that staff have access to it. All individual staff are responsible for ensuring that they act in accordance with the Code of Practice.

Raising Issues or Complaints

Any member of staff who feels that the University is not treating them in accordance with this policy should first try to resolve the matter informally by discussion with their line manager or Head of School or Department. If this fails to resolve the issue they can use the grievance procedure. Where this is not possible or appropriate advice and guidance can be sought, in confidence, from a HR Advisor or the Equality & Diversity Advisor.


5 Student Issues

The University will ensure that, through its academic regulations and codes of practice it does not discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation during their University career and beyond their time at Aston via, for example, the provision of references for employment purposes.


As part of its equal opportunities monitoring the University does not currently collect data on students in relation to sexual orientation and is not legally required to do so. This will be reviewed regularly in consultation with the Guild of Students.

Implementation and Responsibilities

All teaching and relevant support staff are responsible for familiarising themselves with this Code of Practice, and for making its contents known to students as appropriate.

All individual students are responsible for ensuring that they act in accordance with the Code of Practice.

Raising Issues or Complaints

Any student who feels that the University is not treating them in accordance with this policy should first try to resolve the matter informally by discussion with their personal tutor or year tutor. If this fails to resolve the issue the formal complaints procedure can be used.

Where this is not possible or appropriate advice and guidance can be sought, in confidence, from the Equal Opportunities Advisor.

Appendix 1 – Glossary of terms and use of Language

Language is extremely important in the issue of sexual orientation as it is in relation to other equalities issues. There are many terms used to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans community. Acceptable words, when not used derisively, are:





The term homosexuality can be considered to be offensive. Instead, it is more appropriate to use the terms lesbian, gay or bisexual. Some words, although used by the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, are insulting when used by people who do not belong to that community.


Heterosexism is a bias towards heterosexuality, to the exclusion of other sexualities. It acts to enforce and reinforce heterosexuality by assuming that all individuals are heterosexual. This may have a negative impact on those who are not heterosexual, and makes it difficult for people to acknowledge any sexuality other than heterosexuality. Heterosexism can operate at a structural, inter-group and interpersonal level, although it is commonly viewed as related to social structures and practices.


Homophobia is, literally, the fear of lesbians, gay men, or bisexual people and

their sexuality. The expression of homophobic ideas can constitute harassment under the law. Lesophobia has been used to describe anti-lesbian prejudice specifically, and biphobia describes anti-bisexual prejudice. Both of these phobias can also happen within the LGB Community.


Although LGBT is the commonly used abbreviation for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Communities the order of abbreviation can vary between organisations and practices.



A lesbian is a woman who has an emotional and/or sexual preference for women. Some women do not like the term lesbian, and prefer to describe themselves as gay. It is also worth noting that terms such as dyke, butch, and femme, should not be used generally.


Gay is a term that is used to describe a man who has an emotional and/or sexual preference for men. Some women also define as gay rather than lesbian: it can also be a generic term for lesbian and gay sexuality. A person should not be referred to as “a gay”; rather they “are gay”.


A bisexual person has an emotional and/or sexual preference for both people of the same sex and people of a different sex. Bisexual people may also be termed as “bi” and should be referred to as “a bi/bisexual person” rather than “a bi”. Terms such as swinger, undecided, confused should not be used generally. It is worth noting that a bisexual person is still a bisexual person even when they are in a monogamous relationship with a partner of either gender.


Transgender is an umbrella term used to include transsexual people, transvestites, and those with gender dysphoria, or a person who is in the process of transitioning. Transgender also includes those who self define as trans, but who are not transsexual, transvestite or are diagnosed with gender dysphoria

Transsexual Person

A transsexual person is one who feels a consistent and overwhelming desire to transition and fulfil their life as a member of a different sex to their birth gender. Once a person has transitioned, they can legally assume the other gender (via the Gender Recognition Act 2004) and cease to be transsexual.


Trans is a generic term used by those who identify themselves as transgender, transsexual or transvestite. Trans is the most inclusive terms to describe these groups of people and therefore has been used within this Code of Practice.


A heterosexual person is one who has an emotional and/ or sexual preference for people of a different sex. It would be uncommon for a person to experience discrimination on the grounds that they were heterosexual. However, a heterosexual person who found him or herself in the minority in a particular setting might do so, and would be equally protected by the law.

Appendix 2-The Law in relation to Sexual Orientation

Since December 2003 discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been illegal.

Sexual orientation means a sexual orientation towards persons of the same sex, persons of the opposite sex or persons of the same and opposite sex.

The legislation makes the following illegal in relation to sexual orientation

Direct discrimination

To treat less favourably by refusing to employ or admit someone because of their sex, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation etc.

Indirect discrimination

The application of a provision, criterion or practice which is applied equally to persons of all groups but which puts a person of a particular group at a disadvantage or which cannot be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim


Treating someone less favourably or retaliating against someone because they have made a complaint or allegation of discrimination


Defined as unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating environment

Civil Partnership

The Civil Partnership Act became law in the UK on the 18 November 2004 and will come into force on 5 December 2005. The Act creates a new legal relationship of civil partnership that two people of the same sex can form, by signing a registration document. It is only available to same sex couples.. The first partnership ceremonies will take place from 21 December 2005.

Civil Partnership will give same sex couples the right to register their commitment to each other by formalising their permanent relationship. A civil partnership is not the same as marriage, though many of the rights conferred through civil partnership are the same as those conferred by marriage. One of the intentions of the government is that a civil partnership will enable lesbian and gay couples and their families to receive greater social recognition and acceptance.

The Civil Partnership Act introduces the following rights for couples registered as partners under the Act:

a duty to provide reasonable maintenance for the civil partner and any children of the family, if the partnership is formally dissolved;

civil partners to be assessed in the same way as spouses for child support;

equitable treatment for the purposes of life assurance;

employment and pension benefits;

recognition under intestacy rules;

access to fatal accidents compensation;

protection from domestic violence;

recognition for immigration and nationality purposes.

Conflicting Freedoms

Institutions may need to manage conflicting freedoms. This is a situation where the rights of one individual cut across the rights of another. For example, a member of staff (or student) may object to lesbianism, gay male sexuality or bisexuality on the grounds of her or his religion or belief and may therefore be uncomfortable about working in the same vicinity as someone who is lesbian, gay or bisexual. Equally, staff will have a range of views on same-sex relationships. The Regulations do not seek to infringe anyone's rights to hold these views. The Regulations do, however, prevent these views being manifested in the workplace in such a way that offends, intimidates or humiliates, or is hostile or degrading to others. The Regulations are intended to protect people from discrimination, not facilitate it.

Approved by Council 8th November 2006

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