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What is Sexual Orientation

‘Lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ are better described as ‘sexual orientation towards people’, rather than ‘sexual attraction to’. This reflects the fact that people build committed, stable relationships and it is not purely a focus on sexual activity.

Everyone has a sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is a combination of emotional, romantic, sexual or affectionate attraction to another person.

In other words, it’s about who you are attracted to, fall in love with and want to live your life with.

For the purposes of this sexual orientation web page, we have looked at lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and heterosexual issues only, as the term transgender does not relate to sexual orientation but rather the gendered identity of an individual. For more information on transgender issues go to our page

How we are Addressing Sexual Orientation Issues

Routine Data Collection

NHSGGC wants to get better at understanding both its workforce and the people who use our services. We know that sexual orientation affects health. However, at the moment we do not routinely collect information on sexual orientation from the people who use our services. Without this, it is difficult to deliver services that meet everyone’s needs. We are therefore going to introduce the collection of routine information relating to sexual orientation and will support this with a Sexual Orientation E-Learning module for all staff.

Staff Training

Staff training on ‘Getting it Right for LGBT People’ is being run throughout NHSGGC in partnership with LGBT Youth. This practical learning session offers the opportunity to find out more about sexual orientation and gender identity and why it’s so important for health professionals to respond confidently to LGBT people’s specific needs and build trust in service delivery.

LGBTQ+ Staff Forum

For NHSGGC staff members who want to contribute to creating a more LGBT inclusive workplace, there is a LGBTQ+ forum available via Facebook. This is private group, which you will need to request to join.

For more information about the group, contact us.

Stand Against LGBT+ Discrimination

LGBT+ discrimination can take many forms.  Click here to read about our campaign to promote a zero tolerance approach to homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and support the LGBT+ community.

Sexual Orientation and Discrimination

Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation can take several forms – from blatant abusive behaviour (1 in 3 gay men and 1 in 4 lesbians have experienced violent attacks) to more subtle forms that may go unnoticed by many.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a crime under current Scottish Law.

Some examples of discrimination include:

  1. Refusing to employ someone because of their sexual orientation. A case recently heard how a gay man was ‘advised’ not to follow a career in paediatrics – based on the belief that gay men are a risk to vulnerable groups. This is at odds with all evidence, which clearly shows that sexual orientation does not influence the likelihood of carrying out sexual abuse or a sexual assault.
  2. Refusing accommodation. A recent survey showed that 70% of people living in rural areas of Scotland supported the right to refuse holiday accommodation on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Following is a short film by the Equality & Human Rights Commission titled ‘What is sexual orientation discrimination?’.

Sexual Orientation and Other Protected Characteristics

Any sexual orientation other than heterosexual often receives negative responses from parts of our society and this can be made worse when combined with other equality issues.

Disabled lesbians and gay men face the same challenges experienced by many disabled people who live in poverty or on very low income. In addition, lack of money means that many disabled lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are excluded from the LGB social scene, often based in pubs and clubs, which can result in increased isolation. Even if money were not an issue, many venues would be inaccessible to some disabled people.

There may be tensions between sexual orientation and other protected characteristics. For instance, someone who identifies as being LGB but also belongs to a particular faith group may experience negative attitudes from other members of that faith group. It may be that some members of a faith group act in a way that might discriminate against LGB people. Recent high profile media coverage has centred on people with faith beliefs refusing to provide goods and services to LGB people in terms of holiday/leisure accommodation.

People’s Experiences

A young lesbian woman was taken into hospital suffering from Leukemia. The treatment was lengthy and painful, both physically and mentally.

While in hospital, the young woman suffered homophobic bullying from another patient to the point where she felt it was difficult to have her partner visit her on the ward.

The nurses noticed how upset she was and that her partner was no longer visiting, so asked what was wrong. The young woman explained the situation and was immediately supported by staff, including the consultant in charge of her care, who challenged the other patient’s behaviour. They made it very clear that NHS services should be free of all types of discriminatory behaviour – including homophobia.

Support and Resources
Why sexual orientation matters to Health

Examples of how sexual orientation can affect health include:

  1. Research looking at mental health suggests gay men and lesbians report more psychological distress than heterosexuals. This can often be associated with a lifelong exposure to bullying and abuse. Surveys have shown extremely high percentages of young lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people reporting verbal and physical abuse. It has also been found that young LGB people are up to six times more likely to attempt suicide that heterosexual youth.
  2. Drug use amongst gay men has been found to be significantly higher than for heterosexual men. Research suggests that drug use is in part due to low self-esteem, and also due to the attitudes of society towards this group.
  3. Lesbians have specific health issues relating to fertility, pregnancy, sexual health and mental health. However, there is evidence that lesbians are afraid to tell their GP of their sexual orientation in case they experience discrimination.
  4. Figures show that gay men and men who have sex with men are generally at higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS than heterosexual people. In 2006, 38% of all new cases of HIV/AIDS were found within this population group. Gay men and men who have sex with men are also at higher risk of contracting Ghonorrea, with 81% of all new cases diagnosed in 2006 found within this group.