LGBT+ employees in the UK and abroad

As we marked LGBT+ history month in February 2024, this article considers the current position of LGBT+ employees in the workplace in the UK and further afield. 

What is LGBT+ history month?

LGBT+ history month is an annual month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and non-binary history, including the history of LGBT+ rights and related civil rights movements. In the UK, it is observed in February each year, to coincide with the 2003 abolition of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act (Section 28) which prevented local authorities and schools from “promoting” homosexuality.

LGBT+ employees in the UK

Significant advancements have been made since the abolition of Section 28 to support the LGBT+ community. Some of these advancements have come about because of the development of equality legislation: for example, The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 introduced same sex marriage in England and Wales, and equivalent legislation has since come into force for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Companies have also played a critical role in the progress of LGBT+ rights by (among other initiatives): sponsoring annual Pride events; embracing LGBT+ employee resource groups and mentorship programmes; and taking steps to prevent and address microaggressions and demeaning behaviour through inclusion training and company policies. 

LGBT+ employees: the global perspective 

In 2018, we discussed the challenges international employers face in balancing their global values with the reality of doing business in legally, socially and culturally conservative countries – particularly when it comes to LGBT+ rights. The main challenges we discussed were: 

  • Employee mobility: the considerations for employers when deciding whether to send an LGBT+ employee to a country where homosexuality is illegal, or which has a hostile environment for LGBT+ people.
  • Employee support: how employers can support LGBT+ employees engaged locally in a country which has a hostile environment for LGBT+ people (e.g. through non-discrimination policies, training on LGBT+ topics and sponsoring social activities for LGBT+ employees) and the associated risks. 
  • Advocacy: deciding whether, or how, to engage with local governments on LGBT+ rights (e.g. by lobbying the government, participating in Pride events and / or supporting activists). 

We have also recently carried out a detailed analysis of the current status of LGBT+ (and related) rights in various regions around the world, including: 13 countries in APAC, 16 countries in EMEA and 7 countries in Latin America. Our analysis considered the law on various points, such as: domestic partnership; same sex marriage and unions (e.g. civil partnerships); fertility and infertility treatment; adoption by same sex couples; egg / sperm cryopreservation; gender recognition and dysphoria treatment; and the anti-discrimination protections for LGBT+ employees. 

Here are some of the findings from our multi-jurisdictional analysis:

  • Adoption by same-sex couples: We found that adoption by same-sex couples is not permitted in 8 out of 13 APAC countries, 6 out of 16 EMEA countries (including 2 EU countries) and 3 out of 7 Latin American countries.
  • Infertility treatment (IVF / IUI and Sperm / Egg Donation): The global landscape varies with countries having specific restrictions or prohibitions on different types of infertility treatment. Where restrictions exist, they typically limit infertility treatment to those with specific medical conditions or to (married) heterosexual couples.    
  • Anti-discrimination laws: We found that a significant number of countries do not have specific anti-discrimination employment laws in relation to sexual orientation and / or gender identity. In some jurisdictions, local counsel concluded it uncertain whether the anti-discrimination framework would in fact encompass strands of diversity relating to sexual orientation or gender identity. 
  • Surrogacy: In APAC, we found that there are restrictions on surrogacy in 11 out of the 13 countries (with surrogacy either being banned or subject to strict regulations for commercial arrangements).
  • Gender: We found that individuals cannot legally change their gender in 3 out of 13 APAC countries and 2 out of 7 Latin American countries. However, these countries still legally recognise treatment for gender dysphoria (with the exception of one Latin American country). In one APAC country, whether an individual can legally change their gender is impacted by their marital status and if they have children. 
Concluding thoughts

The landscape of global LGBT+ rights is complex: it is challenging for international employers to implement global or even regional strategies. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, with organisations needing to balance different forces depending on their makeup and geographic scope among other factors. It is important that international employers understand the legal frameworks of the countries where they operate, ensuring they can design and implement effective initiatives across their workforce whilst minimising legal risk.

If you are considering how you might take steps to support your LGBT+ employees across the globe, but are unclear of the legal environment in which they work, please do get in touch with our Diversity Faculty to learn more.

This publication is a general summary of the law as at the point of publication. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances. If you would like to understand more about the analysis, please get in touch.