According to government estimates, around 6 per cent of the UK population are lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB). The last thing a small or medium business needs is to alienate a significant chunk of potential customers. Here are seven things to know when serving UK’s 3.9 million non-heteronormative consumers
You may remember ‘toiletgate’ from earlier this year, following high profile confrontations in America over which toilets transgender people have the right to use. A large faction believe transgender individuals should use public toilets that match with the gender they were born into, rather than their current gender, which has been met with a lot of criticism.
For members of the heteronormative public who may not fully understand why transgender toilet rights matter, consider the statistics. A think tank at UCLA, found that 68 per cent of transgender youth were subjected to homophobic slurs while trying to use the bathroom. Nine per cent confronted physical violence. Transgender toilet rights is a matter of physical safety, as much as it is about societal acceptance.
While these issues still remain contentious, they have raised the issue of the rights lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals have in public places on a global level.
Transgender toilet rights is a matter of physical safety and societal acceptance.
In the UK, instances of businesses discriminating against LGBT customers have been well documents. For example, the B&B owners who cited religious grounds to refuse serving a gay couple, or a Northern Irish bakery refusing to bake a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage.
“The key thing to keep in mind when dealing with customers is that if you treat them differently because of their gender or sexuality, you could well be guilty of discrimination – and that carries a hefty fine,” Holly Heath, solicitor at DAS Law said. An award for injury to feelings alone can be up to £30,000, but that’s only the start of it, she explained. Damages for personal injury, aggravated or exemplary damages and compensation for any losses can also be included.
“The key is to ensure your staff are fully aware of the law and what it means for the way in which they respond to customers. A joke at a transgender person’s expenses could prove very expensive,” she added.
UK businesses found guilty of discriminating against LGBT individuals can face a fine running into tens of thousands of pounds. So if staff in a hotel, restaurant or shop are responding to a request from an LGBT individual, experts at DAS Law have compiled a list of seven points they need to keep in mind in order to be on the right side of the law.
1. The Equality Act 2010 states that it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the grounds of what the law calls ‘a protected characteristic’. Protected characteristics include sexual orientation or gender reassignment.
2. If you or your staff treat someone differently because of their sexual orientation, this is direct discrimination.
3. Religious beliefs do not trump the law. If you treat someone differently because of your religious beliefs, you are in breach of the law.
4. If your business has a policy or a rule that means, in practice, an LGBT individual is treated differently, this could be indirect discrimination. For example, if a hotel has a rule that it will only provide a double room to a couple of the opposite sex.
5. If your staff abuse an LGBT individual or make a joke about their sexuality, this can be harassment.
6. Cross-dressing is not a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equalities Act. However, if the cross-dressing is part of the process of changing gender, or if you perceive the individual to have a characteristic of gender reassignment and treat them differently because of this, it could still be construed as discrimination.
7. There is no legal defence against a claim of direct discrimination.