LGBTQIA+ related Microaggressions


  1. What does LGBTQIA+ stand for?
  2. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia
  3. Sexual orientation and their gender identity
  4. Why is sexual orientation and their gender identity important?
    • Direct Discrimination
    • Indirect discrimination
    • Harassment
    • Victimisation
  5. What do sexual orientation and gender identity microaggressions look like?
  6. How to recognise Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity microaggressions
  7. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity related Micro Affirmative Behaviours
  8. Download our posters

1. What does LGBTQIA+ stand for?

This is an acronym used to group various sexual orientations and gender identities. 

These are: 

  • Lesbian
  • Gay Bisexual
  • Transgender
  • Questioning or Queer
  • Intersex 
  • Asexual.

The&+ is an acknowledgement that there are non-cis gender and non-straight identities that are not included in the acronym. This is an umbrella term for all people who have a non-normative gender identity or sexual orientation. 

You can learn more about the meaning of the terms described here.

Language used to talk about LGBTQIA+ people is constantly evolving; you may have also seen variations of this acronym such as LGBT and LGBTQ+

The reason why the acronym grows and changes is that people are increasingly finding new ways to articulate their experiences and find communities of people who have had similar experiences. Language is constantly evolving in all areas of our lives as we adapt it to our current lives.

We will be using terminology that may be new to you, for more information, read this glossary of LGBTQIA+ terms for definitions.

2. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia

LGBTQIA+ microaggressions are a form of discrimination, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. These terms are used to describe the fear or dislike of someone based on prejudice or negative attitudes, beliefs or views about people who are or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, queer, trans, bisexual or asexual.

Seemingly innocent transgressions are known as microaggressions and can be intentional or unintentional comments or actions directed against a person who is usually part of a marginalised group, that signal disrespect and inequality.

3. Sexual orientation and their gender identity

This reference will be considering discrimination because of someone’s sexual orientation and their gender identity.

It is important to note that an individual’s sexual orientation and their gender identity are two different things

Sexual orientation is also known as sexuality. An individual’s sexual orientation depends on whether they’re sexually and/or romantically attracted to:

  • Their own gender – this means gay and lesbian people
  • Another gender – this means heterosexual people
  • The same and another gender – this means bisexual people.

Gender identity is a person’s innate sense of their own gender, whether male, female or something else, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth.

In this resource, we will use the following definitions:

Sex is what we are assigned at birth.

Gender identity refers to a person’s deep held sense of their gender and how they identify in terms of gender expression.

4. Why is sexual orientation and their gender identity important?

More than a third of LGBT staff have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT at work because they were  afraid of discrimination.

Microaggressions can put an LGBTQIA+ person in a position where they have to ‘come out or correct someone’ regarding their sexuality or gender identity, which can be uncomfortable. It can also be a source of anxiety if they don’t know what reception sharing this information will get.

Research shows that LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to be valued in the workplace and less likely to be seen as professional, and more likely to experience barriers to career progression. It is, therefore, a common experience for LGBTQIA+ people to feel belittled and underappreciated.

There are four main types of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination refers to situations where someone is treated less favourably than someone else because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, or the sexual orientation or gender identity of someone they’re close to. This may include a friend, relative or colleague.

Direct discrimination can be measured by comparing the situations of two employees. These employees should be in comparable situations except that one is lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans and the other is not.

For example:

  • At a job interview, a female applicant refers to their girlfriend. Despite being the best candidate, they’re not offered the job
  • You inform your employer that you intend to transition to a gender other than the gender you were assigned at birth; your employer transfers you off your role against your wishes because they don’t want you to have client contact.
Indirect discrimination

It is indirect discrimination to have a rule, a policy or practice which places someone of a particular sexual orientation or gender identity at a particular disadvantage.

For example, a local health authority decides that it will not fund breast implants. As a result, the health authority refuses to provide this treatment for a woman undergoing gender reassignment even though she considers it essential to make her look more feminine. The same policy is applied to all women but puts transwomen at a greater disadvantage. The health authority may be able to justify its policy if it can prove that it has legitimate reasons


Harassment in the workplace occurs when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded.

For example:

  • Colleagues keep greeting a male worker by the feminine version of his name, although he has asked them to use his proper name. The colleagues say this is just banter, but the individual is upset and offended
  • A transgender woman has introduced their pronouns as she/they, but her team continue to refer to her as he or him.

This is when you’re treated badly because you have made a compliant about sexual orientation or gender identity related discrimination. It can also occur if you’re supporting someone who has made a complaint of sexual orientation or gender identity related discrimination.

Discrimination against someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity can potentially happen at:

  • Recruitment and selection
  • Promotion
  • Training, pay and benefits
  • Redundancy and Dismissal
  • Terms and conditions of work.

An example of this can include:

  • An employer allows a man whose female partner is pregnant to take annual leave so that he can go to ante-natal appointments with her. The employer refuses a similar request from a woman whose female partner is pregnant. This is likely to be direct discrimination because of sexual orientation.
  • Not allowing an individual undergoing transgender surgery to attend appointments the same as someone who would be attending an appointment for a long-term condition.

5. What do sexual orientation and gender identity microaggression look like?

Examples of microaggressions about sexual orientation and gender identity - Heteronormativity and Cisnormativity is the assumption that heterosexual relationships are the norm and that everyone is cis-gender as in people whose gender identity corresponds with their birth sex. Heteronormative assumptions that all children have 2 parents, one male and one female. Making assumptions of someone's marital status based on how old they look. Expectations of stereotypes - being a gay man you're expected to be flamboyant. Refusing to use preferred gender-neutral pronouns because it is too hard or perceived to be grammatically incorrect. Being told you're not allowed or don't belong in a certain bathroom - particularly for the trans and gender non-conforming community. Assuming someone who identifies as LGBTOIA cannot relate to heterosexual people. When someone says partner, people often assume that the partner is of the opposite sex or gender. Announcing someone's sexual orientation or gender identity for them- just because someone is out to you, doesn't mean they're out to everyone.

6. How to recognise Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity microaggressions

We've collected some real-life examples of verbal sexual orientation and gender identity related microaggressions, with an explanation of why these comments or questions can be offensive, insulting or insensitive.

How to recognise sexual orientation and gender identity microaggressions - Asking a person if they have a boyfriend girlfriend husband wife based on their gender expression. Saying You don't look like a lesbian – you are so feminine! Saying It's such a waste that you are not straight! Saying You don't have a family so why don't you work the bank holidays or do the late shift? Saying Are you they a man or a woman? Or Why can't you they just choose one or the other? Saying I don't know all the letters in the acronym! Saying You don't look or seem gay or a lesbian. Asking a woman How long have you been with your husband? Saying I'm sorry that you're gay or lesbian or bisexual, trans or gender non-binary. Asking When or why did you choose to be LGBTQIA+? Would you ever change your mind? Asking a same sex couple Who is the man and who is the woman in the relationship? Asking Who is the mum and who is the dad? - when you are a same sex family Seeing a man in the park with a young child and asking Where is mummy? or asking a child with 2 women Where is your daddy? Asking invasive questions about someone's body like "what parts do you have down there?

7. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity related Micro Affirmative Behaviours

You have a duty to ensure that you’re not acting in a discriminatory manner, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Take positive micro-affirmative actions to be inclusive and prevent microaggressions.

Encourage an inclusive culture which is understanding and open to education. Provide support and comfort for individuals and create new positive behaviours.

  • Hold yourself and others to account for any of the microaggressions highlighted above. When you notice them, you can call them out as an ally as outlined here
  • Be mindful of your biases, perceptions, and stereotypes - challenge your values and heterosexist assumptions
  • Challenge your view of traditional gender identities and behaviours
  • Recognise there is a benefit in having different voices at the table; appreciate that a broad spectrum of people results in problem-solving skills being enhanced as there are different approaches to projects, with the diversity of thought improving the final outcome
  • Ensuring there is representation and visibility from across the LGBTQIA+ community – being able to see yourself represented is important
  • If you’re comfortable to, you can call out a colleague who is using the wrong pronouns about someone you work with and can say something like "Actually, this person uses these pronouns, and it’s important for us to use them as well"
  • If someone speaks up against a microaggression or tells you they're hurt by what you said or did don’t argue that it didn’t happen, try and understand how your behaviour can be changed and see it as an opportunity to develop your awareness
  • To minimise misgendering individuals – ask people what their pronouns are before assuming. Sharing your own pronouns invites others to share theirs too. You can ask people to include their pronouns when they introduce themselves to someone new or in workshops and meetings
  • If you’re chairing a meeting, make sure you have given everyone the opportunity to contribute
  • Don’t announce someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity for them – let people share what they feel comfortable with
  • Instead of making assumptions, you could use neutral pronouns, i.e. they/them/their, to refer to a person’s partner instead; this prevents you from putting someone on the spot about their sexuality by asking "Is your partner a man or a woman?", or expecting them to correct you
  • There are tactful ways to clarify someone’s gender identity, such as asking: "May I ask which name and pronouns you would like me to use to address you?"
  • Remember that language is ever-changing, and that meanings and words can have a different significance for people; if you’re unsure it's best to ask people in an appropriate and sensitive manner
  • Don’t make assumptions about people’s passions and interests based on their sexual orientation or gender identity – ask people what they’re interested in.

8. Download our posters

In addition to the behaviour highlighted above, sexual orientation and gender identity related micro-aggressive behaviours can be verbal, non-verbal or environmental.

Download our posters below, on recognising sexual orientation and gender identity related Microaggressions, and examples of sexual orientation and gender identity related Microaggressions.

A3-LGBTQIA+Microagressions-Circle-AW-page-001 A3-LGBTQIA+Microsagressions-Speech-AW-page-001