Take action

A General Guide for Responding to Homophobic Harassment

If you or someone you know has been subject to homophobic harassment, or if you have witnessed an incident of homophobic harassment, you CAN do something about it. Harassment is a community issue that affects everyone. Whether you are gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual or straight and whether you are receiving or witnessing harassment we encourage you to Take Action and stop the harm.

Assess the physical risk

Are you in danger?
Are you or somebody else in immediate physical danger? Is someone’s physical safety at risk? Have you been involved in or witnessed an act of violence or physical aggression?

One’s physical safety is of utmost importance. If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions you need to act now and always put safety first.

If you are a victim of the harassment remove yourself from the situation where the physical danger or threat is occurring (if possible) and call the police – 000 in an emergency.

If you are a witness to an act of physical aggression, or a friend of someone who has suffered physical aggression report the incident to the police.

If the threat of physical attack is not immediate but you feel it could happen at any moment then you should contact your local police station. They will be able to help you make the necessary arrangements to reduce the risk of physical attack occurring.

If you answered ‘no’ to all of the above questions keep reading for further support.

Consider your options

Do you feel you comfortable approaching the harasser?
Would you feel safe and comfortable approaching the person committing the homophobic harassment, either alone or with someone you trust? Whether or not you should approach the person causing the harassment depends on whether you feel comfortable and safe to do so, and is totally optional. If you don’t feel it is safe to approach the person, or if you think it will exacerbate the situation then consider some of the options below. While it is to be expected that a certain level of discomfort may arise by approaching the harasser, if you do feel it would be an appropriate and safe option then we encourage you to give it a go. Sometimes people do not realise that what they are doing is harassment, and telling them how it is affecting you or another person may be enough to stop it. If you are a witness to harassment, your involvement as a third party may notify the harasser that their behaviour is unacceptable and may assist in preventing further harassment from occurring. When considering this option it is also possible to ask a friend, or someone you feel is equipped to deal with these situations, to approach the person causing the harassment with you. This is to ensure that you feel as comfortable as possible, and so that your friend may help you get your message across clearly and calmly should you find it hard to do so on your own. If you do this and the situation does not resolve consider the following.

Can somebody help to change the situation?
Is there someone you can approach who has the power to change the situation? Reporting the incident to the people who have a direct power over the person committing the harassment is often the best means to seeing the issue resolved quickly and amiably. This person could be a manager, teacher, principal, sports coach, human relations officer, equal opportunity contact officer at work or a venue manager. This person has a responsibility to ensure that everyone who participates under their supervision or within their social space is safe and free from discrimination and harassment. For instance,

  • If the harassment occurs in the workplace you should follow your organisation’s policies and procedures on discrimination, harassment and/or bullying. To do this you may need to ask your manager, equal opportunity contact officer or human resources officer for this information. If a procedure does not exist then you can tell your manager, or someone else who has supervisory or managerial responsibilities about the situation.
  • If you are a student at school and another student is harassing you then you can report the incident to a teacher, a guidance counsellor or your parents. If you are a student and a teacher is harassing you then you can report the incident to the principal, the deputy principal, a guidance counsellor or your parents.
  • If the harassment occurs in a sporting group or club that you are involved in you can report the incident to your coach; or if that is not appropriate, to the management of the club.
  • If the harassment occurs out and about, for example in a café or nightclub, you can approach the management.

Please note: Sometimes the person who has the most power to change a situation is the person causing the harassment. If this is the case we suggest you look at approaching someone who has a higher status (if possible) to this person, or to someone that may be sympathetic to the situation. Some companies provide anonymous complaint hot lines which may be appropriate in certain circumstances.

Keep a record
If it is possible, you should keep a written record (e.g. a diary) of the threatening or harassing behaviour and your interactions with others in relation to addressing the incidents, especially if the harassment is ongoing. You should record the incident (what was said, what they did), with a time and date. If the harassment is coming from more than one person then indicate who does what in each instance. In the cases of ongoing harassment, keeping a record will help you demonstrate to others the persistence and severity of a given situation.

Seek outside assistance and guidance
Whether before or after approaching the person committing the homophobic harassment, and/or approaching the person with the power to change – it is appropriate to seek assistance and guidance to help you in responding to your specific situation.

There are people and services to assist you in your situation that can provide Personal Support, General Guidance, and Legal Support.

Before contemplating bringing legal action in any court or tribunal you should carefully consider what other options you may have to resolve the dispute. Legal proceedings are not always the most effective or the quickest way of resolving any dispute. You should first consider seeking legal advice that will take into account your particular circumstances. For more information about the law visit Get Informed.

Make an internal complaint
Reporting the incident can also involve making an internal complaint in writing to the organisation in which the discrimination or harassment has occurred. This will encourage the organisation to respond to the harassment in accordance with their responsibility to provide an environment free from discrimination and harassment.

If the situation does not resolve – it is time to consider making a formal complaint or taking legal action. Read more about this below.

Complaints and legal action

Where should I complain?
Prior to considering legal action, you may be able to resolve your situation by making a complaint. Your situation will determine the most effective place for you to lodge a complaint.

  • If you have not already done so, you  may wish to make an internal complaint.
  • If your complaint relates to discrimination or victimisation at work, You also have rights under federal law and can make a formal complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman. A Fair Work inspector will work with you and your employer to enforce workplace laws and try to resolve the dispute. If necessary, you or Fair Work may also initiate litigation against your employer (although we suggest you go to the Ombudsman first).
  • If your complaint relates to workplace bullying and harassment,You can lodge a complaint with WorkSafe Victoria. WorkSafe works with you and your employer to enforce occupation health and safety laws. If necessary, you or WorkSafe can also initiate litigation against your employer (although we suggest you go to WorkSafe first).

Below is a flow chart of avenues for formal complaints and legal action.

Discrimination complaints to VEOHRC
If you suffer harassment or discrimination you can make a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (“VEOHRC”). The VEOHRC facilitates the resolution of disputes and has power to establish policies and issue procedures and directions on the manner in which dispute resolution should be conducted.

In addition to the dispute resolution service, VEOHRC can also provide general confidential information on discrimination and your rights under Victorian law, and how to make a complaint.

If you think you have experienced homophobic harassment, or believe you have been otherwise discriminated against or victimised, you should contact the VEOHRC for further information about the law and the complaints process.

You should try to bring a dispute to the VEOHRC as soon as you can. Generally the sooner a complaint is lodged the easier it is to try and resolve.

What is the VEOHRC dispute resolution process?
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission provides an impartial, fast, flexible, and free dispute resolution process to help people resolve discrimination complaints and complaints of sexual harassment, and racial and religious vilification.
Through its dispute resolution services, the VEOHRC can help parties:

  • identify the disputed issues;
  • develop options;
  • consider alternatives; and
  • try to reach an agreement.

Complaints can be made in any language and the VEOHRC can arrange a free interpreter in your language or a sign language interpreter, if required. They can also help you complete your complaint form if you require assistance.

Complaints to the VEOHRC are resolved through a process known as conciliation. This is where the people involved in a dispute talk through the issues with the help of the VEOHRC, and with the aim of reaching an agreement on how the dispute will be resolved.

The aim of conciliation is for the complainant and respondent to reach an agreement about resolving the complaint. The VEOHRC does not have the power to make orders or award compensation. Many complaints are resolved at conciliation and outcomes may include:

  • an apology (verbal or written, private or more public);
  • financial compensation;
  • a job reinstatement or reference;
  • access to a previously denied job opportunity or service;
  • an agreement to change or stop behaviour;
  • an agreement to amend or develop policies; or
  • an agreement to undertake human resources and equal opportunity training.

Taking legal action under the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act
If your complaint is unable to be resolved through mediation at the VEOHRC, you are able to bring a legal action at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (“VCAT”) .

Before contemplating bringing legal action in any court or tribunal you should carefully consider what other options you may have to resolve the dispute. Legal proceedings are not always the most effective or the quickest way of resolving any dispute.

VCAT is a tribunal for dispute resolution designed to be accessible to people who are not legally represented.

VCAT hearings are generally less formal than court hearings. Legal or other representations at a VCAT hearing are generally not required, parties to a VCAT hearing usually represent themselves. However, any party can be represented by a lawyer or advocate. If, for example, VCAT gives permission and all parties agree, or one party is represented. VCAT also offers free interpreter services for hearings.

After you make an application, VCAT may require you participate in a number of procedures including attending a directions hearing, mediation or a compulsory conference prior to a hearing, with the aim of settling the dispute. Alternatively, the application may proceed directly to a hearing. At a hearing, you and the alleged wrongdoer can call or give evidence, ask questions of witnesses and make submissions. VCAT delivers its decision either at the end of the hearing or as soon as possible after that.

If VCAT decides that you have been discriminated or victimised, it can order the other person to stop further unlawful acts, pay compensation or do certain things to redress the loss or damage.

If you are thinking of making an application to VCAT, you should first contact VCAT for further information.

Want to know more?
For more information about discrimination law see Get Informed and Find Support.

Workplace discrimination complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman
If you feel that you have been discriminated against at work, or if you feel that you have been victimised at work, you can make a complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman. A Fair Work inspector will work with you and your employer to enforce workplace laws and try to resolve the dispute. The Fair Work Ombudsman encourages you to have first brought up the issue with your employer.

If you remain unable to resolve your complaint, then you may initiate legal action against your employer under the federal workplace laws . There are particular legal requirements you may have to meet before commencing legal action. You should consider these carefully, and seek legal advice or assistance before proceeding with this course of action.

Before contemplating bringing legal action in any court or tribunal you should carefully consider what other options you may have to resolve the dispute. Legal proceedings are not always the most effective or the quickest way of resolving any dispute. You should first consider seeking legal advice that will take into account your particular circumstances.

Want to know more?
For more information about federal workplace relations law visit Get Informed and Find Support.

Workplace bullying complaints to WorkSafe Victoria
If you have concerns about homophobic harassment at work you could consider first making an informal or a formal complaint internally within your work organisation. Check your workplace policies and procedures to see how to raise bullying issues. If the complaint is not resolved to your satisfaction, you can complain externally such as to VEOHRC or WorkSafe Victoria, or raise your complaint in other ways. In all of these cases, always ensure that you keep a record of all the events relating to your complaint including what happened, dates and time, who was involved, and any witnesses.

When you make a complaint to WorkSafe Victoria, an advisor will assess whether the alleged behaviour towards you creates a health and safety risk. The advisor will usually ask you a range of questions (such as specific details of bullying incidents, whether you have spoken up at work about bullying, and the impact of it on your health). The advisor may also request you put the complaint in writing and if the advisor believes further action is required, they may refer the case to a WorkSafe inspector.

The WorkSafe inspector will investigate the case and may visit your workplace to speak with your employer and colleagues to assess whether and how your workplace deals with bullying. The inspector may issue an improvement notice to your employer if they believe your workplace’s measures are inadequate to address bullying. The inspector visit will usually resolve bullying concerns.

However, the inspector may investigate the case further where:

  • there is evidence that your employer has committed an offence under occupational health and safety laws; or
  • your employer failed to improve its measures as pointed out at the inspector visit.

The investigation may lead WorkSafe to commence legal action (prosecution) against your employer for their offence under occupational health and safety laws.

Want to know more?
For more information about occupational health and safety law and the obligations of employers visit Get Informed and Find Support.

Report potential crimes to Victoria Police
Prejudice motivated crime is a criminal act and can take many forms, including: physical assault, damage to property, harassment, verbal or written abuse, threats and offensive graffiti.

The Victorian Police takes prejudice motivated crime seriously and encourages reporting of such crimes for a safer community.

If you are a victim of prejudice motivated crime, report to your nearest police station.

If you have witnessed prejudice motivated crime, report to Crime Stoppers confidentially with any information that you can provide.

Monitor the situation

Ensure that issues remain addressed
If you have been successful in resolving the incident: congratulations, you have taken a positive stance and said no to homophobia.It is important however that you continue to monitor the situation to ensure that it does not revert back to the original situation or get worse. If this happens consider going through the above guide again to ensure that this time you actually get the proper support you need when you need it. For example, if your teacher or manager said they would address the issue and they haven’t, you can always ask them again. If that doesn’t work you can go to the next port of call, seek legal advice and/or escalate the complaint to the principal/human relations representative/senior management, or to a third party. The most important thing is that you don’t give up. Homophobia is NOT here to stay, and it takes people like you to say no to it.

Please note: Not all incidents of harassment are the same. Therefore, whether some of the options or recommendations above are applicable depends on the given situation. That is OK. This information is being provided to give you an understanding of the different options and services available, as well as to provide you with a best general guidance for taking action. This information is not a substitute for legal advice. For more information about sourcing legal advice, please see Find Support.

“Homophobia is NOT here to stay, and it takes people like you to say no to it.”