Lesson 4: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity


Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this lesson's material, students will be able to:

  • Identify, research, assess the credibility of and effectively use electronic sources.
  • Summarize information from a peer reviewed source.
  • Identify personal challenges, biases, and opinions regarding gender identity and sexual orientation in the workplace.


Sexual orientation

"Sexual orientation" is the preferred term used when referring to an individual's physical and/or emotional attraction to the same and/or opposite gender. "Gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "straight" are all examples of sexual orientations. A person's sexual orientation is distinct from a person's gender identity and expression.

Gender identity

The term "gender identity," distinct from the term "sexual orientation," refers to a person's innate, deeply felt psychological identification as a man, woman or some other gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth (e.g., the sex listed on their birth certificate).

Gender expression

Gender expression refers to all of the external characteristics and behaviors that are socially defined as either masculine or feminine, such as dress, grooming, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions. Social or cultural norms can vary widely and some characteristics that may be accepted as masculine, feminine or neutral in one culture may not be assessed similarly in another.

Gender stereotyping

In gender stereotyping, people make inaccurate, overly simplistic generalizations of others based upon their gender. These assumptions are untrue because they do not take into account that everyone is an individual with unique thoughts, feelings and aspirations. Requiring certain styles of dress for men and women can be the basis for a gender-bias.


Transgender – or trans – is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression is different from those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth (e.g., the sex listed on their birth certificate). Not all people who consider themselves (or who may be considered by others as) transgender will undergo a gender transition. Find related transgender definitions and terminology by visiting our Transgender FAQ.

Gender transition
Transitioning is the process some transgender people go through to begin living as the gender with which they identify, rather than the sex assigned to them at birth. This may or may not include hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery and other medical procedures. Read more.


Cross-dressing refers to people who wear clothing and/or makeup and accessories that are not traditionally associated with their biological sex. Cross-dressers are sometimes called "transvestites," but that term is considered pejorative.
Many people who cross-dress are comfortable with their assigned sex and generally do not wish to change it. Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression that is not necessarily indicative of a person's gender identity or sexual orientation.

Gender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is a psychological diagnosis recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). This disorder is marked by clinically significant distress caused by a marked difference between the individual's expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her.

In 2012, the APA announced that the term "gender identity disorder" would be replaced by the more neutral term "gender dysphoria" in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity-terminology-and-definitions

State and federal laws – including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) – prohibit discrimination in employment decisions like hiring and firing based on race, religion, color, sex, and national origin. While Title VII doesn't list sexual orientation as a protected class, an increasing number of local and state governments are passing laws and ordinances that protect homosexuals from workplace discrimination and harassment. Title VII doesn't forbid discrimination or harassment because of sexual orientation, but your company policy or local ordinance likely will.

Employment Non-Discrimination Act

A number of states and the District of Columbia have already passed legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. With bipartisan support, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been introduced in Congress to broaden federal employment discrimination protections to include a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill would prohibit employers from making decisions about hiring, firing, promoting or compensating an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The ENDA also prohibits preferential treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered employees as well as using quotas requiring an employer to hire a certain number of such employees. It states that lawsuits filed under the ENDA can't be based on statistics about the sexual orientation or gender identity of employees. In addition, no employer is required to provide domestic partner benefits under ENDA, and the armed forces and religious organizations are exempt from the bill's requirements, as are employers hiring based on veteran preference.

Proponents of the ENDA said similar measures have been tried in a number of states and worked well without causing problems. Labor, business groups, and gay rights groups generally support the measure.

The Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness, a group of 20 companies, including Coca-Cola, Microsoft, General Mills, and Hewlett-Packard, gave its support, stating: "Having a corporate culture that embraces diversity improves the productivity of our associates, helps the company recruit the best talent, and makes us more productive."

It is striking how many US States still offer little protection for individuals who identify with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual. Look at the US maps in the link below and you will see the presence of discriminatory practices across the country.

EQUALITY MAPS: https://transgenderlawcenter.org/equalitymap

Sexual orientation harassment

While Title VII doesn't protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, it does protect them from same-sex harassment. The distinction between the two types of conduct has caused confusion; however, the case law has provided illustrations of actionable same-sex harassment claims:

  • An employee can offer credible evidence that the harasser was actually motivated by sexual desire toward members of his own gender.
  • An employee can offer proof of gender-specific statements from which an inference can be drawn that the harasser is motivated by general hostility to the presence of members of the same sex in the workplace.
  • An employee can offer comparative evidence showing differences in how the harasser treated members of both sexes in the workplace.
  • An employee can establish that the harassment was based on perceived nonconformance with gender-based stereotypes.

These examples demonstrate that even though Title VII doesn't prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, harassment based on sexual orientation may be evidence of same-sex discrimination. It must be stressed, however, that even though discrimination based on sexual orientation doesn't violate Title VII, distinguishing between same-sex harassment and sexual orientation harassment is generally difficult. (http://topics.hrhero.com/sexual-orientation-discrimination/#)

In all 50 states, federal law makes it illegal to discriminate based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Disability
  • Age (40 and older)
  • Citizenship status
  • Genetic information

In addition, Maine state law also prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Disability: physical or mental
  • Age
  • Genetic information
  • Sexual orientation (includes perceived sexual orientation)
  • Gender identity or expression
  • Past workers' compensation claim
  • Past whistle-blowing
  • Medical support notice for child

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that regulates workplace discrimination. You can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by calling 800-669-4000 or check out its website at www.eeoc.gov.
The website will help you locate an EEOC field office in Maine.

The Human Rights Commission enforces state antidiscrimination law in Maine.
You can contact the Human Rights Commission at 207-624-6050 or go to its website.

NOLO: Law for All - Employment Discrimination in Maine


Why I must Come Out


50 Shades of Gay


Lesson 4 Assignment

Search EBSCO (online research database available at the KVCC library website) for a full-text, peer reviewed article that adds to the research in the fields of sexual orientation and gender identity. (Hint use these key words, or search using keywords from your lessons thus far.) Write at least a full page essay summarizing the article, and making the content meaningful to you as you enter/re-enter the workforce during this particular place and time in history.

Summarize your own thoughts and experiences related to this topic and discuss and challenges you may face as you enter the mental health workforce.

Remember, all assignments submitted to the drop box must have a title page!

Lesson 4 Discussion

After viewing the TED Talks in the Lesson Plan, please make separate posts about the talks, exploring your observations, opinions, potential biases and introduce some difficulties in areas of both intrapersonal challenges and potential for interpersonal challenges. This means that you will be making four posts for lesson 4 discussion.