This post is the fifth in a series of six, reporting the results of The State of Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia survey I conducted at the start of 2017[i].
In all, 1,672 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) Australians provided valid responses to that survey.
In this article, I will be focusing on their answers to four questions, asking whether they have ever experienced discrimination in employment, whether any of this discrimination occurred in the past 12 months, whether this discrimination related to employment by religious organisations and to provide an example of the discrimination that they experienced.
The responses to these questions confirm that too many LGBTIQ Australians have to worry about discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in the workplace on top of the usual career and financial worries.
The question about whether any of this discrimination occurred in relation to employment by a religious organisation is important because of the existence of special rights to discriminate for these employers in most states and territories, leaving LGBTI employees in these circumstances without any legal redress.
I also encourage you to read the examples provided in response to question four, which reveal some of the many different types of employment-related discrimination that LGBTIQ people have encountered.
Question 1: Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in relation to employment (including as an employee, contract worker or job applicant)?
Question 2: Has one or more instances of this employment-related discrimination occurred in the past 12 months?
Question 3: Did any of this discrimination occur in relation to employment, or an application for employment, with a religious organisation?
Of the 1,622 people who answered the first question, 491 – or 30% – said they had experienced employment-related discrimination at some point in their lives.
Disturbingly, 235 survey respondents[ii] reported experiencing anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment in the past 12 months alone. That is 14.5% of the total, or 1 in every 7 people who completed the survey.
The proportion that reported employment-related discrimination by religious organisations was 6.1%[iii]. This is thankfully much lower than the proportion that had reported discrimination by religious schools (in Survey Results, Part 4) – although that is likely a reflection of the expansive reach of religious schools, and comparatively smaller employment footprint of religious bodies.
Nevertheless, most of those 6% probably had no recourse to anti-discrimination protections given the excessive, and unjustified, exceptions provided to religious organisations in most Australian jurisdictions.
There were some significant differences in reported employment-related discrimination between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer survey respondents:
- 31.6%[iv] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 15.3%[v] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 7.8%[vi] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
- 34.3%[vii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 13%[viii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 5.9%[ix] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
- 20.3%[x] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 11.1%[xi] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 4.3%[xii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
- 44.4%[xiii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 29.2%[xiv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 6.8%[xv] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
- 73.3%[xvi] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 40%[xvii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 20%[xviii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
- 30.3%[xix] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 16.9%[xx] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 6%[xxi] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
|LGBTIQ Category||Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment (%)?|
|Ever||Last 12 months||By religious organisation|
The highest rates for all three were from intersex respondents, although the small sample size for that group (n=15) means those figures should be treated with some caution.
Of the other groups, there was a large degree of consistency, with two main exceptions:
- Bisexual respondents reported significantly lower rates of employment-related discrimination in all three areas (ever, last 12 months and by religious organisations), and
- Transgender respondents reported significantly higher rates of lifetime employment-related discrimination, and particularly in the last 12 months (although, interestingly, not in terms of discrimination by religious organisations).
Taking a closer look at the trans cohort, and in particular respondents who identified as both trans and another LGBQ category, the figures[xxii] were as follows:
Trans and lesbian: 37.2%[xxiii] ever, and 25.6% in the last 12 months
Trans and gay: 47.4%[xxiv] ever, and 28% in the last 12 months
Trans and bisexual: 36.1%[xxv] ever, and 24.6% in the last 12 months, and
Trans and queer: 42.2%[xxvi] ever, and 25.9% in the last 12 months.
While there was little variation in terms of discrimination over the past 12 months (at a disturbingly high 1-in-4 across all groups), trans and queer, and especially trans and gay respondents were more likely to report lifetime discrimination in employment than the other two groups.
Overall, then, while lesbian, gay and queer people reported close-to-(the LGBTIQ)-average levels of employment-related discrimination across the board, bisexual respondents reported lower rates.
On the other hand, intersex and transgender respondents were particularly affected by discrimination in employment, with people who were both trans and gay and (to a lesser extent) trans and queer more likely to report lifetime discrimination.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People
The rates of discrimination for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people were higher for all three questions than for their non-Indigenous counterparts, although thankfully in relation to discrimination in the past 12 months and by religious organisations these rates were only slightly elevated:
- 37.9%[xxvii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point (compared to 30% of non-Indigenous people)
- 15.5%[xxviii] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months (compared to 14.5% of non-Indigenous people) and
- 6.9%[xxix] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation (compared to 6.1% of non-Indigenous people).
|Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment (%)?|
|Ever||Last 12 months||By religious organisation|
|Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander||37.9||15.5||6.9|
These results are potentially the most interesting of this post:
Aged 24 and under
- 20.9%[xxx] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 13.8%[xxxi] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
- 3.8%[xxxii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
25 to 44
- 36.9%[xxxiii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 16.2%[xxxiv] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
- 7%[xxxv] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
45 to 64
- 48.5%[xxxvi] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 16.1%[xxxvii] experienced at least one instance in the past 12 months
- 11.3%[xxxviii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
65 and over
- 41.9%[xxxix] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- None experienced any instance in the past 12 months
- 16.1%[xl] reported discrimination at a religious school or college
|Age cohort||Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment (%)?|
|Ever||Last 12 months||By religious organisation|
|24 and under||20.9||13.8||3.8|
|25 to 44||36.9||16.2||7|
|45 to 64||48.5||16.1||11.3|
|65 and over||41.9||0||16.1|
Young people obviously have less employment history, and therefore the lower rates of reported lifetime discrimination are perhaps unsurprising. However, the fact that almost 1-in-7 suffered employment-related discrimination during the past 12 months alone, when a significant share would not even be in the workforce at all, is shocking.
Lifetime rates of discrimination then increase for the next two age groups, peaking at almost 1-in-2 for LGBTIQ people aged 45 to 64. In effect, just as many people in this cohort have experienced discrimination in employment as those who have escaped its impact – another remarkable statistic.
Perhaps just as depressing is the fact that for both people aged 25 to 44, and 45 to 64, the rates of recent anti-LGBTIQ prejudice in employment were roughly the same – at a time when they should be more ‘secure’ in their careers, almost 1-in-6 experienced employment related discrimination in the last year alone.
State or Territory of Residence
The final demographic category according to which I have analysed the survey results is the state or territory of residence:
New South Wales
- 28.7%[xli] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 13.4%[xlii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 5.7%[xliii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
- 33%[xliv] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 14.2%[xlv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 6.6%[xlvi] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
- 36.6%[xlvii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 17.5%[xlviii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 6.9%[xlix] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
- 32.7%[l] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 17.3%[li] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 5.3%[lii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
- 26.3%[liii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 15.8%[liv] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 7.5%[lv] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
- 20.4%[lvi] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 9.3%[lvii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 3.7%[lviii] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
Australian Capital Territory
- 19.6%[lix] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 14.3%[lx] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 3.6%[lxi] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
- 35%[lxii] reported employment-related discrimination at some point
- 10%[lxiii] experienced at least one instance in the last 12 months
- 15%[lxiv] experienced employment-related discrimination by a religious organisation
|State or territory||Experienced anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment (%)?|
|Ever||Last 12 months||By religious organisation|
These results were largely consistent across state and territory boundaries (thus lending weight to the overall figures, discussed earlier).
Tasmania and the ACT reported low lifetime rates of employment-related discrimination, with Queensland recording the highest rates (alongside the Northern Territory, although note the latter’s small sample size, n=20).
Queensland and Western Australia reported higher levels of anti-LGBTIQ prejudice in the workplace during the last year – more than 1-in-6 employees reporting recent discrimination. Tasmania (and the Northern Territory) reported the lowest rates – but that nevertheless reflected the fact 1-in-10 LGBTIQ people were discriminated against in 2016 alone.
Question 4: If you feel comfortable, please provide an example of the discrimination you experienced in relation to employment [Optional]:
This question allowed respondents to provide examples of the anti-LGBTIQ discrimination they had experienced and, just as with previous survey results, these comments are often confronting to read.
A lightly-edited[lxv] version of the answers to this question – providing examples of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination in relation to employment – can be found at the following link:
These answers demonstrate a range of different ways in which LGBTIQ people were mistreated in comparison to cisgender heterosexual employees, including:
- Being refused employment
“I was told “we don’t hire faggy trans here, or anywhere in this town. If you come back in this shop, we’ll shoot you.””
“I was hired as CEO for a charity. After three interviews, a psych test and a video presentation, I was told I was the leading candidate by a mile. We negotiated start date and salary. As part of the process, I disclosed I was married to a man. That disclosure happened at 305pm on a Monday. At 740am Tuesday, I received an email advising me that the offer was withdrawn. They, of course, did not say it was because I was gay. I, apparently, did not demonstrate sufficient interest in the job.”
“Denied a job based on cultural reasons – sexuality not part of our culture therefore cannot teach about said culture. Offer of employment rescinded.”
“Got a job interview but as soon as they saw that I was a dyke I didn’t even get a chance to speak to them they acted awkward and uncomfortable and said I wouldn’t suit the job.”
- Being fired from employment
“when they found i was homosexual i was sacked from my position as bar attendant in a league club”
“Refused employment because of my transgender status, the supervisor found a reason for dismissal on day one and asked what dose oestrogen I was on as my voice is deep and upsetting my patients”
- Losing shifts, especially in casual or part-time employment
“My old maccas got a new restaurant manager who hated me because of it and stopped giving me shifts.”
“At my last job my employer found out I was a lesbian and coincidentally I stopped receiving any shifts.”
“I was in a casual position, the moment I began to transition however, I was shoved sideways and out the door. No more hours.”
- Contracts not being renewed
“My contract was not renewed because I am gay”
“I believe that when my homophobic boss found out I was gay, she discontinued my contract”
- Being denied other employee entitlements
“I wasn’t allowed to nominate my partner to receive my superannuation in the event of my death.”
Some survey respondents indicated they were punished because of fears (real or perceived) that clients would react badly to their sexual orientation or gender identity:
“I have been turned down for some jobs where I would be dealing with the public in hospitality because I was a non passing trans woman.”
“I had a job interview with an organisation specialising in disability support in the Midland area (Western Australia), to work as a disability support officer. I had already done exactly the same work for about a year with two other similar organisations which both wanted me to take on more hours. Because those organisations were both a long drive from where I lived I wanted to change to a closer employer. At the end of the interview one of the two interviewers said they could not employ a transgender person because their clients would not accept me. Funny that, their clients must have been very different from the other clients who accepted me without question.”
“Clients have refused to hire me and have been open about it being related to my sexuality. My clients’ clients have been very vocal and made complaints about hiring me because of my work with young people and their sexuality/gender identity/expression”
For some, workplace homophobia, biphobia, transphobia or intersexphobia was explained by a need to ‘protect’ children:
“I was sacked in 1987 because I was gay and working as a swimming teacher with children. Despite my full accreditation this was perceived to be inappropriate. I had no resources to take legal action as I was just 19, from a poor background and despite being the regional swimming champion the community had turned against me.”
“One employer was so uncomfortable with my sexuality that he would not allow his 3 daughters to have contact with me despite bringing them into the office frequently.”
“In 2012 my boss suggested that we have 2 Christmas dinners. One for people with kids, and a separate one with just me and the 2 bosses because “it’s not appropriate to allow a gay man near the kids of other staff members”. I worked at an adult store (sex shop), where I thought I’d be accepted by open minds. I was wrong.”
“I was doing work with teenagers at my church’s youth group, but when I refused to hide my sexuality I was told that I was being a bad influence on the kids and would let the devil into their lives and condemn them to damnation. I was no longer allowed to work with the teenagers.”
This last example points to a much larger issue – employment-related discrimination by religious organisations, as evidenced by the following responses:
“I was a charge nurse of an operating suite that had successfully turned around the fortunes of a religious based hospital: a new manager was appointed that decided to “root out’ all the homosexuals working in the organisation.”
“I have been asked to sign a document that guarantees my not wilfully “sinning” (listing homosexual acts as one of those sins) in order to be considered for employment at a religious school.”
“After completing my course with results and references from teachers and clinical placements which were far superior to other students, I received no interviews or call backs from employers from religious organisations. I did find work at a private company in my field and am doing well in my job. I feel like my talents and abilities were denied to the clients of these religious employers because of my gender identity and my employment options were severely limited.”
“I work as a nurse at a religious based hospital and I experience bullying/ homophobic remarks frequently at work”
“company bought out by exclusive brethren, all gays got sacked, was obvious, but they got away with it. “company restructure”…”
“I was employed by the Salvation Army. They told me not to have a photo of me and my partner on my desk even though all the Het people had their photos on their desks. I was then told they accept me being a Lesbian provided I’m not a practicing Lesbian. They put a private detective on me and harassed me out of my job.”
“I was required to resign my job in 2006 when I came out as gay because my employer was religious. The job had only tangential connection to his religion. I chose not to fight the discrimination – I had lost the heart to work there any more any way. I was then unemployed for 8 months.”
“Before I moved into my own practice, I was working in a Baptist school on a maternity leave position. The position then became a permanent role. My manager wanted me to apply and she put my name forward. They pretty much told her that they did not want me in the role because of my “sexuality”…”
“Many years ago I won a job in a religious school, was offered the job and then the offer was withdrawn with the explanation that I would not fit the culture.”
The public service was not exempt from examples of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination (although some were more historical than others):
“Being told my sexuality would count against me in an interview for a public sector position.”
“In 2012 I was appointed as [senior position] in the [redacted] government. It was a high level and high profile appointment. The Deputy Secretary of the Department who appointed me, wrongly informed the Secretary (i.e. CEO) of the Department that I was gay, in the period when I was coming on board in the role. His response? He told the Dep Sec “I hope he’s not going to flaunt it”. This from one of the highest paid public servants in the entire public service in [redacted] – and the very person who was supposed to safeguard the rights of me and all his other employees. Unbelievable!”
“In the early 1990s, I was working in the Commonwealth Public Service in Sydney. I applied for a job at a higher level and was accepted for interview. I was told that although I had come first in the selection process, the job was going to be given to the second-rated candidate because as he was a “family man” he deserved the promotion (and increase in income) more than I did.”
“Face significant formal (policy) and informal (cultural attitudes) discrimination in the workplace as an ADF member. Whilst this is improving, it is wrong to say that I am not discriminated against – e.g. placed in the wrong accommodation area, having to adhere to binary uniform codes, etc.”
As suggested by the statistics earlier, transgender respondents provided a range of examples of workplace discrimination:
“Very difficult to apply for job when all experience and jobs were held under previous identity”
“I was told that because I wasn’t using my legal name in my application, I couldn’t be input into their system, and hence did not receive an interview.”
“After losing my job, at every interview I’ve been told I ‘got the job’, and once they receive my legal documents and tax file number they never get back to me. At one interview, they told me that my gender identity was a ‘mental illness’ and they needed a doctor’s note before I could work.”
“HR seemed to take me seriously at first but whenever I would make a small mistake she would blame it on my transition saying that I was a different and less capable person (primarily she blamed hormone therapy). Most of the time she would talk about me to other people and I needed to quit that job for my own mental health.”
“Employers felt uncomfortable with my gender identity and asked me not to wear a binder at work. I’ve started presenting as only female at work now. It’s killing me”
“Despite the fact I had a name tag that said Adam and had introduced myself as trans, I was constantly called she. I complained to a manager and it happened again, in a group chat to all employees and managers I yet again said in the kindest way that I do wish to be respected and not misgendered and later that night and from then on was still misgendered.”
“Refusal to change name in email system. Misgendering during heated discussions (seemingly deliberate). Office doesn’t have gender-neutral toilets, asked to use toilets of assigned gender. Could go on…”
“When I finally told my work I was Transitioning I was made to feel an outcast and I finally left the position”
“My work requires i wear a male uniform regardless of my gender identity. I didn’t get a choice of what gender uniform. Only got to choose the size”
Disturbingly, some survey respondents reported complaining about the anti-LGBTIQ conduct they experienced, but then no (or insufficient) action being taken:
“I have also been the subject of religious based hate speech in a non religious school in the lunch room and that was let slide despite my protestations.”
“Gay and AIDS jokes being made, and then on one occasion when i complained to the manager, the manager made me stay home whilst she investigated the complaint, which made me feel as if I was being punished and not the offender.”
A few respondents noted the difficulty of proving homophobic discrimination:
“It’s really hard to explain, you know when people are making decisions about you without actually saying out loud it’s homophobia. It can be very obscure & hard to prove, but its there alright.”
“I can’t prove it but have a strong suspicion my position was made redundant because my boss found out I was gay”
This final comment explicitly describes discrimination by religious organisations, the fact that it remains completely lawful in most circumstances, and the impact that this has:
“This is an area that I get upset about, especially working for a religious organisation. The invisibility and intolerance by some people is hard to bear, especially knowing that religious organisations are exempt from the Anti-Discrimination Act. Living with the fear that if management realise you are gay and sack you for being gay – this is TOTALLY LEGAL. This is totally unjust and disgraceful that anti-discrimination law actually endorses and permits discrimination. I recently had a new manager who, though looking cool, held some very conservative views. I didn’t dare sound him out on gay issues, because I would have been lectured that I was an abomination for being gay (as other people have told me). This leads me to not reveal my true identity at work and to live in some fear of discrimination (knowing the law does not protect me)”
The results of these four questions have confirmed that homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination in employment is relatively widespread, and has a significant impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians.
This includes 3 in every 10 respondents people reporting lifetime experience of such discrimination, with 1 in 7 reporting at least one instance of anti-LGBTIQ discrimination in employment in the last 12 months alone.
Some groups within the community reported even higher lifetime rates than this already high average, with intersex and trans people, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people and people aged 45 to 64 particularly affected.
While the rates of discrimination by religious organisations were comparatively low, this is likely explained by the lower numbers of people employed in this sector (especially compared to the far higher proportion of students in religious schools).
The personal examples of employment-related discrimination shared in response to question 4 demonstrate the many different forms such prejudice can take, with a particular focus on transphobia, and discrimination by religious organisations (noting that such mistreatment is entirely lawful in most jurisdictions due to religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws).
As noted at the beginning of this post, this has been the fifth in my series of six articles reporting the results of my The State of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia survey. The remaining article, which will focus on discrimination in health and other areas, will be published within the next week.
If you would like to receive updates of these results, please sign up to this blog: on mobile, at the bottom of this page, or on desktop at the top right-hand corner of the screen.
If this post has raised any issues for you, you can contact:
- QLife, Australia’s national telephone and web counselling and referral service for LGBTI people.
Freecall: 1800 184 527, Webchat: qlife.org.au (3pm to midnight every day)
- Lifeline: 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au
[i] The previous posts can be found here:
[ii] 490 people responded to question 2: 235 yes/255 no.
[iii] 490 people responded to question 3: 99 yes/391 no.
[iv] 320 people responded to question 1: 101 yes/219 no.
[v] 49 respondents.
[vi] 35 respondents.
[vii] 629 people responded to question 1: 216 yes/413 no.
[viii] 82 respondents.
[ix] 37 respondents.
[x] 513 people responded to question 1: 104 yes/409 no.
[xi] 57 respondents.
[xii] 22 respondents.
[xiii] 367 people responded to question 1: 163 yes/204 no.
[xiv] 107 respondents.
[xv] 62 respondents.
[xvi] 15 people responded to question 1: 11 yes/4 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.
[xvii] 6 respondents.
[xviii] 3 respondents.
[xix] 485 people responded to question 1: 147 yes/338 no.
[xx] 82 respondents.
[xxi] 29 respondents.
[xxii] I have excluded the figures for discrimination by religious employers, which ranged from 1.8% for trans and gay, to 8.1% for trans and queer, with trans and lesbian, and trans and bisexual, sitting in the middle.
[xxiii] 43 respondents total, with 16 yes to question 1 and 11 yes to question 2.
[xxiv] 57 respondents total, with 27 yes to question 1 and 16 yes to question 2.
[xxv] 122 respondents total, with 44 yes to question1 and 30 yes to question 2.
[xxvi] 185 respondents total, with 78 yes to question 1 and 48 yes to question 2.
[xxvii] 58 people responded to question 1: 22 yes/36 no.
[xxviii] 9 respondents.
[xxix] 4 respondents.
[xxx] 871 people responded to question 1: 182 yes/689 no.
[xxxi] 120 respondents.
[xxxii] 33 respondents.
[xxxiii] 431 people responded to question 1: 159 yes/272 no.
[xxxiv] 70 respondents.
[xxxv] 30 respondents.
[xxxvi] 274 people responded to question 1: 133 yes/141 no.
[xxxvii] 44 respondents.
[xxxviii] 31 respondents.
[xxxix] 31 people responded to question 1: 13 yes/18 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.
[xl] 5 respondents.
[xli] 530 people responded to question 1: 152 yes/378 no.
[xlii] 71 respondents.
[xliii] 30 respondents.
[xliv] 379 people responded to question 1: 125 yes/254 no.
[xlv] 54 respondents.
[xlvi] 25 respondents.
[xlvii] 246 people responded to question 1: 90 yes/156 no.
[xlviii] 43 respondents.
[xlix] 17 respondents.
[l] 150 people responded to question 1: 49 yes/101 no.
[li] 26 respondents.
[lii] 8 respondents.
[liii] 133 people responded to question 1: 35 yes/98 no.
[liv] 21 respondents.
[lv] 10 respondents.
[lvi] 108 people responded to question 1: 22 yes/86 no.
[lvii] 10 respondents.
[lviii] 4 respondents.
[lix] 56 people responded to question 1: 11 yes/45 no.
[lx] 8 respondents.
[lxi] 2 respondents.
[lxii] 20 people responded to question 1: 7 yes/13 no. Note that, given the small sample size, these percentages should be treated with some caution.
[lxiii] 2 respondents.
[lxiv] 3 respondents.
[lxv] In this context, lightly-edited includes:
-Removing identifying information
-Removing potentially defamatory comments and
-Removing offensive remarks.
I have also corrected some spelling/grammatical mistakes for ease of reading.