lgbtq workers are suffering from a ‘hidden epidemic’ of sexual harassment

A new study found that despite huge amounts of harassment in the workplace, most incidents are still going unreported.

by Moya Lothian-McLean
17 May 2019, 12:59pm

Image via Pexels 

A worrying new study has revealed that there's a "hidden epidemic" of LGBTQ employees who have experienced sexual harassment while at work -- with most incidents going unreported.

The survey, carried out by Trades Union Congress (TUC), drew responses from over 1000 LGBTQ individuals across the UK about their personal encounters with sexual harassment at work. Among the most commonly reported behaviours were hearing colleagues make inappropriate jokes about other LGBTQ employees, having to endure comments of a sexual nature and being subject to explicit jokes about their sexual orientation.

One in six of those affected said their experiences had forced them to leave their jobs; a equal amount said their mental health had been impacted as a direct consequence. “One member of staff asked if I ‘take it up the arse’,” recalls a respondent featured in the research. “When I said I was unhappy about being asked this, [I was] told I was ‘a flouncy old queen.’”

Notably, LGBTQ women were disproportionately exposed to higher levels of unwanted physical contact at work, escalating from inappropriate touching to serious sexual assault. One in eight LGBTQ women said they’d experienced assault or rape in the workplace. “[There were incidents of] touching my breasts on a work night out… trying to kiss me,” read one piece of testimony in the report. “It was related to turning me straight and trying to show me what I am missing.”

Yet two thirds (66%) of those who’d suffered sexual harassment at work didn’t report their experiences, with most fearing that doing so would have a negative impact on their working relationships. Gay men were also found to be far less likely to speak up about inappropriate behaviour towards them than other LGBTQ individuals.

The survey follows news that schools across the country have been the target of further protests against compulsory education on LGBTQ issues for secondary school pupils. In 2018, a Stonewall report found that 42% of LGBTQ students had ‘hidden’ their identity at university, for fear of discrimination.

Now the Trades Union Congress is calling for action on tackling what is clearly a widespread and insidious problem. Their report finishes by putting emphasis on the UK Government to take action on the back of the research, and improve legislation. "Government must act urgently to put the responsibility for tackling this problem where it belongs – with employers," the TUC write. "We need stronger legislation that places a new legal duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment, with real consequences for those who don’t comply."

UK: do better.

sexual harassment
LGBTQ rights
Workplace Harassment