Protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation

The Human Rights Act 1993 makes it unlawful to discriminate, either directly or indirectly, against a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation. This applies in the areas of employment, access to public places, provision of goods and services, accommodation and educational establishments.

Sexual orientation is defined as a heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation. Relatives or associates are also protected against discrimination.

Direct discrimination

This occurs when a person of one particular sexual orientation is treated less favourably than a person of another sexual orientation in the same or similar circumstances. This occurs if a person is discriminated against because it is presumed they have a particular sexual orientation.

Indirect discrimination

When a rule or practice exists which, on the face of it, appears neutral, but in fact has a detrimental effect on people of a particular sexual orientation indirect discrimination is said to have taken place.

Areas of unlawful discrimination

Employment — it is unlawful to discriminate against employees, job applicants, voluntary workers, people seeking work through employment agents, and contract workers. Discrimination by partnerships, professional or trade associations, qualifying bodies and vocational training bodies is also unlawful.

Accommodation — landlords and real estate agents cannot refuse a person residential or business accommodation because of that person’s sexual orientation. Also they cannot discriminate in this way because of a person’s relative or associate.

Equally, it is unlawful to provide less favourable terms and conditions in accommodation, or to place a low priority on a person’s application for accommodation, because of their sexual orientation. This applies to buying, renting or leasing accommodation as well as staying in a hotel, motel or caravan park.

Provision of goods and services — it is unlawful to withhold goods, services or facilities, or to provide them on less favourable terms or conditions, because of someone’s sexual orientation. Goods and services include banking and insurance and grants, loans, credit or finance. Services provided by doctors and other professionals are also included.

Access to public places (including vehicles) — it is unlawful to refuse access to or use of a public place on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Education establishments — the Act also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in education establishments — e.g. It is unlawful to discriminate against a person seeking admission as a student.

Other areas — you are also protected from unlawful discrimination in business partnerships, and by industrial and professional associations, qualifying bodies, and vocational training bodies. Ask a Helpdesk Adviser for details.

Exceptions to the areas above include:

  • domestic employment in a private household
  • employment as a counsellor or in the provision of counselling that is of a highly personal nature
  • in the provision of shared accommodation
  • disposal of an estate by will or charitable trust

What do you do if you think you have been discriminated against?

Those who believe they have experienced discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation can ask for assistance from the Human Rights Commission. If the Commission considers that the complaint falls within the Human Rights Act, it will be investigated by Commission staff. If there is substance to the complaint, Commission officers will try to settle the matter. If agreement is not reached, the Commission may decide to take the matter to the Complaints Review Tribunal for a hearing.


While we have tried to make this educational information as complete and legally accurate as possible, it is neither exhaustive nor should it be regarded as legal advice. Please contact your lawyer for specific legal advice.


We thank the Human Rights Commission for permission to publish this information here.


  • Wellington Police Diversity Liason Officer - Contact details.
  • From the UK National Union of Teachers - Tackling homophobic bullying an issue for every teacher (See the downloadable .pdf file below)
  • Lavender Islands Website. Significant pieces of NZ research on the GLBTI community reported on in various articles.
  • The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
  • The OutThere Safety in Our Schools Resource.
  • Human Rights Commission Transgender Inquiry Report.

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