As many as seven in ten LGBT employees in Britain have experienced sexual harassment at work, a study published on Friday — the International Day against Homophobia — has found.
The report, carried out by the Trade Union's Congress (TUC), saw 1,000 people surveyed, 68% of which said they had been sexually harassed at work, with 12% of LGBT women saying they had been seriously sexually assaulted or raped at work.
Two-thirds of the victims did not report the harassment
This epidemic is a "hidden problem with two-thirds of those who were harassed not reporting it," the study's authors said.
It found 44% of those surveyed did not report the incidents at work because they were afraid their careers would be jeopardised. One in four did not report sexual harassment or assault they had experienced out of fear that their sexual orientation would be revealed.
Of the men who did report sexual harassment, only 7% said it was "taken seriously and dealt with satisfactorily."
One gay man described comments that colleagues had made about his sexuality in the report and recalled when he said he was unhappy with the inappropriate comments, he was "told I was ‘a flouncy old queen.'"
This survey, which is the first of its kind in the UK, was undertaken in an effort to shine a light on the unseen experiences of LGBT people, which it said have been overlooked in campaigns such as the #MeToo movement.
Which parts of the LGBT community were most affected?
Out of all respondents, trans women said they had encountered the highest number of sexual assaults — almost one third (32%) reported being sexually assaulted at work, while one fifth (22%) said they experienced serious sexual assault or rape in the workplace.
"Disabled people reported significantly higher levels of sexual harassment than nondisabled people," the study found. Disabled LGBT women were six times more likely (24%) to experience serious sexual assault or rape in the workplace than women without disabilities (4%).
Disabled LGBT men reported lower levels of sexual harassment and assault than women, but still reported significantly higher levels than non-disabled men.
The report observed that many incidents "appeared to be linked to the sexualisation of LGBT identities and the misconception that these identities solely focus on sexual activity."
Results show that this sexualisation affects LGBT BME (Black and Minority Ethnicity) women more than any other group. The report points out that this is backed up by academic theory, which draws attention to the ways in which these women's bodies are specifically oppressed through "othering’ and 'eroticising' of BME women’s bodies and sexuality."
More than half (54%) of the lesbian, bisexual and trans BME women who took part in the survey reported unwanted touching in the workplace compared to around one-third of white women (31%).
The report builds on an earlier study "The Cost of Being Out at Work survey", which was conducted by the TUC in 2017.
“I was working in a kitchen environment and the chefs would regularly … make derogatory comments, and at one point I walked into a room in the middle of them discussing gang raping me,” reported one young trans woman in the previous report.
What happens on May 17
The International Day Against Homophobia began in 2004 in order to draw public attention to discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ+ community.
May 17 was chosen to celebrate the World Health Organisation's 1990 decision on the same date to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Today, May 17 is observed in more than 130 countries, with LGBTQ+ initiatives on this date taking place around the globe.