One in eight people believes employers should be able to sack staff simply because they are lesbian or gay.
The strong homophobic element in Britain is revealed today in a report conducted by the Trades Union Congress, which shows that one in 10 people believe s lesbian and gay workers should be treated less favourably than other staff.
The findings also showed that one in eight people thought that long-term gay or lesbian partners should not be entitled to staff discounts or pensions received by spouses or partners of heterosexual colleagues.
Britain does not have legislation to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexuality and more than four out of 10 lesbian or homosexual workers have reported being discriminated against in the workplace.
Peter Purton, of the TUC, said: "The figures confirm what gay people have always known: that there is a strong current of homophobia in the country, but it is in the minority. The Government needs to challenge these popular prejudices with legislation."
The TUC has joined forces with Liberty, the civil rights group, and Stonewall, a lobby group that campaigns for gay rights, to call for laws to protect lesbians and gay men from discrimination and extend job-related benefits to long-term partners.
Last year the Government said it would introduce a voluntary code of practice by October but the organisations involved say this will not go far enough and only legislation will make a difference for lesbians and gay men at work and in society at large. A spokeswoman for Liberty said: "Most people don't realise that gay men and women have practically no protection against discrimination on the basis of their sexuality in the UK."
John Monks, TUC general secretary, said: "This is a simple matter of social justice and human rights. Good employers already treat all their employees with the same degree of respect.
"The voluntary code of practice proposed by the Government is a welcome recognition of the problem but it won't stop bad bosses discriminating against their gay employees."
He added: "Our poll shows the quiet majority backs these modest rights; it is only a noisy minority which is standing in the way of progress."
The report, "Straight Up!", includes a survey of nearly 1,000 people. Of those questioned, 74 per cent agreed that employers should not be allowed to sack a member of staff if they discovered the employee was gay, with only 13 per cent saying it was acceptable.
The research revealed that 77 per cent of the respondents thought employers should not treat lesbian or gay workers any less favourably than heterosexual employees, with 10 per cent disagreeing.
Asked whether employers should treat the long-term partners of gay and lesbian staff in the same way as partners and spouses of other employees, 71 per cent of those questioned agreed while 11 per cent disagreed.
Mark Watson, of Stonewall,said the Government should lead the way in fighting prejudice in the workplace. "The voluntary code is a good first step but we need proper legislation," he said.
"It does not make good economic sense for business to sack people on the basis of their sexuality. Good employers already know this."
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