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Sexual Orientation

Did you know...
  • The term sexual orientation does not just refer to lesbian, gay or bisexual people; heterosexual people are also included
  • As late as the 1960s, gay male sexuality was completely illegal, even between consenting adults in private.
  • Only in 2001 was an amendment made to equalise the age of consent for heterosexuals and homosexuals to 16.
  • UK legislation covers any discrimination based on someone's sexual orientation, regardless of whether it is true or not
  • The Rainbow (or Gay Pride) flag was created by artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, and is used around the world as a symbol of LGBT unity.
  • In 2013, men were twice as likely as women to state their sexual identity as gay or lesbian - Office for National statistics.



Sexual Orientation is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

The Act protects bisexual, gay, heterosexual and lesbian people. The law also covers perceived sexual orientation and discrimination by association.

Sexual orientation means a person's sexual orientation towards:

  • Persons of the same sex
  • Persons of the opposite sex
  • Persons of either sex

(Government Equalities Office - Equality Act 2010)

Guide to LGB Terminology

Terms to Use Usage Examples Terms to Avoid Explanation
  • Gay
  • Lesbian
  • Bisexual
  • Bi

"gay people"

"gay man/men"

"lesbian couple"

"bisexual people"

"He is gay." / "She is a lesbian." / "He is bisexual."


•"gay" (n.) (as in, "He is a gay.")

Gay is an adjective, not a noun; it is sometimes used as a shorthand term encompassing gay, lesbian and bisexual orientations (though not transgender people or gender identity). Also, while many lesbians may identify as gay, the term lesbian(s) is clearer when talking only about a woman or women.

Opponents of LGBT equality often use words like "homosexual" to stigmatize gay people by reducing their lives to purely sexual terms.

  • Being Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual

"She talked about being gay."

"He discussed being bisexual."



•"That’s so gay." (a hurtful slur)

Talking about a person’s "homosexuality" can, in some cases, reduce the life of that person to purely sexual terms. Talk about

being gay/lesbian/bisexual instead. Also, the term "lesbianism" is considered pejorative, as is using "gay" as an insult or slur.

  • Lesbian, , gay, bisexual and transgender

    (on first usage)

    •gay and transgender (on repeated subsequent references, as needed for brevity, TV or radio ads, etc.)

    •LGBT (with LGBT and allied audiences; in longer written documents such as reports, after defining)

"people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender"

"laws that protect gay and transgender people"

"Only 29 % of LGBT adults in the United States report they are thriving financially, compared to 39 % of non-LGBT adults."

•"LGBT" (with those who are not yet strong supporters)

Reference both sexual orientation and gender identity when talking about issues pertaining to the entire LGBT community. (See

Transgender on the next page for more information.)

The abbreviation "LGBT" can confuse and alienate those who aren’t yet strong supporters—though it is essential when talking to LGBT and strongly supportive audiences. Use terms that allow your audience to stay focused on the message without creating confusion about your intended meaning.

Useful websites

The Equality Challenge Unit research into the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans students and staff in Higher Education.
Stonewall - Stonewall works to achieve equality and justice for lesbians, gay men and bisexual people.
LGBT ons

Warwick Pride

A social, welfare and campaigning society within the University for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, undefined and asexual (LGBTUA) students.

Definitions used by Warwick Pride

L - Lesbian Definition

G - Gay Definition

B - BI Definition

T - Trans Definition

U - Undefined Definition

A - Asexual Definition


Quick Links:

LGBTUA+ Workshop for Staff

This workshop is aimed at staff at the University of Warwick who want to begin to explore their thoughts and feelings around their gender and sexual orientation and who are thinking of coming out or just have come out.