Different words are used to describe sexual preferences (also known as ‘sexual orientation’), and you may have heard people described as straight, gay or bi.
Some people like using these labels because it can be a way of connecting with other people who feel like them, but some people do not like to define themselves in this way.
You may not know which of these you are, or may not feel that you fit neatly under one label.
How you describe your sexuality is up to you and you don’t need to decide what your preferences are straight away, or ever.
An important thing to remember is that sexuality can change and that you do not have to decide who you are going to be attracted to and stick to it.
Sexuality is not fixed and who you are attracted to can change over time, or even week to week! In fact, who you find yourself attracted to is not really something you can choose or control, which is part of the reason that sex and relationships can be so confusing.
It is not at all unusual to feel attracted to someone of the same sex and many people experience crushes or very close friendships with someone of the same sex as they are growing up.
For lots of people this does mean that they are a gay man or a lesbian, and they go on to have relationships with people of the same sex.
For others, their feelings may change and they will find that they are more attracted to the opposite sex, or even both sexes.
As some LGBT people unfortunately can still experience discrimination around their sexuality, this can make it hard for people to explore their sexuality. There is support to help if you’re thinking about coming out or if you have a family member or friend who has recently come out.
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While attitudes towards different sexualities have improved within society (with same-sex marriage recently being legalised), unfortunately many LGBT people may still experience homophobia or discrimination in different areas of their life.
Under the Equality Act 2010, sexuality is a ‘protected characteristic’. This means that LGBT people are protected in law from harassment, victimisation or discrimination in the workplace, in education or when using services.
If you are being bullied because of your sexuality or gender identity it is really important that you speak to someone about this. If it is happening at school, tell a trusted teacher or staff member as they will be able to support you and hopefully stop the bullying. You can also get help from the charity EACH or LGBT Switchboard , who both have free helplines.
If it is happening at work you are protected by The Equality Act 2010. There are a number of sources of support including colleagues, managers and your Human Resources department. If you raise a grievance, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has a Code of Practice which your employer should follow. ACAS can also provide support to you via their helpline and website.
If a person is verbally or physically attacked because they are (or their attacker thinks they are) LGBT, this is classed as a hate crime. You have the right to go to the police and report what has happened. Your local police force should have a team which have been trained to deal with hate crimes. They can give you advice and investigate what has been happening.
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