A report has been published by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland to help enable lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals to access their rights under equality law.
The purpose of the report was to explore the obstacles facing both LGB individuals and equality bodies when it came to the realisation of LGB rights.
Its findings showed that many LGB people are cautious about disclosing their sexuality in order to avoid adverse consequences that may arise in a homophobic environment.
Hetrosexism, the assumption that everyone is heterosexual, further exacerbates the problem of LGB invisibility.
Many individuals are also unsure whether they are being discriminated against or not.
According to the report, the first step on the path of redress involves the identification of a harmful experience.
But fear of victimisation, anxiety about the impact of litigation on interpersonal relationships and the potential threat to one’s career given the risk of being ‘outed’ all stand in the way of individuals seeking redress.
The second stage involves the transformation of the experience into a grievance, a step known as ‘rights realisation.’
Awareness of applicable laws and policies is crucial to enable individuals to translate the perceived harm into one that is understood as legally prohibited.
The third stage is that of redress.
Although all potential claimants, gay or straight, face barriers during the identification and pursuit of complaints, these tend to be heightened for LGB people.
Many LGB people admitted tolerating homophobic practices in order to ‘get by.’
One of the problems highlighted in seeking redress is that anonymity cannot be guaranteed in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.
This rules out the possibility of litigation for those who are not ‘out’ in all areas of their lives.
Certain LGB populations, most notably the young and those living in rural settings, are particularly vulnerable and for such groups the prospect of taking a case is remote.
The report stressed that it was crucial for equality bodies to help LGB people identify discriminatory practices and help them take action against them.
Equally important is to develop a positive culture of respect in order to counter the invisibility of minority sexual orientations.
Access to appropriate legal advice and personal support should also be enhance and awareness campaigns should be launched, information provided and training given on equality rights.
One suggestion involved LGB NGOs implementing an ‘E-quality mark’ designed to acknowledge best practice amongst employers and service providers.