Dealing with discrimination
Discrimination is when you are treated badly or less fairly because you have a particular attribute. Many people worry that they will face discrimination if they tell their health professionals they are LGBTQI+.
Learn more about:
- Is discrimination unlawful?
- How to deal with discrimination
- Making other types of complaints
While many health professionals are caring and supportive, discrimination in cancer care can happen. However, there are laws to protect LGBTQI+ people seeking health care. Knowing your rights may help reassure you that you are being treated fairly.
Is discrimination unlawful?
Under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, it is against the law for health professionals, hospitals and treatment centres to discriminate against you because of your sexual orientation, gender or intersex status. It is also unlawful for them to discriminate against same-sex couples.
Legislation in most states and territories also protects people from discrimination in certain areas of public life, including health care, because of their sexual orientation or gender.
In NSW, under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 it is against the law for health professionals, hospitals and treatment centres to discriminate against you because you are gay, lesbian or transgender. Call 1800 670 812 or visit Anti-Discrimination NSW for more information.
Examples of unlawful discrimination in the health care setting include:
- refusing to provide you with care because you are LGBTQI+
- providing you with a lesser standard of care because of your sexual orientation, gender or sex characteristics
- making offensive comments, jokes or negative remarks about LGBTQI+ people
- not acknowledging your same-sex partner/s as next of kin
- using incorrect names and pronouns on purpose.
The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights describes the rights you can expect when using health services, including the right to receive health care in an environment that is inclusive, safe and respectful.
How to deal with discrimination
- If you feel comfortable and safe doing so, raise the issue with the health care facility. All hospitals and health services should have a procedure for patients to provide feedback and complaints. Check with the cancer care coordinator, social worker or nursing staff.
- Make notes about the behaviour or incident. List dates and names of people who saw the behaviour. This will help you remember what happened so you can explain it later.
- Think about what you would like to happen to resolve the issue. A quick conversation may help to sort out any simple misunderstandings.
- If your complaint is about a specific person and you don’t want to talk to them directly – or you have spoken to them and the issue remains unresolved – speak to the cancer care coordinator, nursing unit manager or social worker at the hospital or treatment centre about the complaint.
- Most complaints are resolved through mediation or conciliation. This is an informal way of agreeing on an outcome.
- If mediation or conciliation doesn’t help, you may have the option to go to an administrative tribunal or to court for a legal judgment that must be followed.
- Contact the Australian Human Rights Commission (call 1300 656 4190), Anti-Discrimination New South Wales (call 1800 670 812) or your state or territory equal opportunity or anti-discrimination agency to lodge a complaint. Contact these organisations or seek legal advice to work out which organisation is best for your situation before you lodge a complaint.
- For people who live in NSW, the Inner City Legal Centre (call 9332 1966) provides a statewide legal advice service for LGBTQI+ communities, as well as a trans and gender diverse legal service.
- Talk to a lawyer for specific advice about your situation. Cancer Council 13 11 20 may be able to refer you to a lawyer for legal advice (which may be free if you cannot afford to pay).
People may have different ideas about what is offensive or unacceptable behaviour. Just because the person did not mean to be offensive does not make it okay. You have the right to complain if you feel that you’ve been intimidated, bullied or harassed by health professionals, other hospital staff or other patients, or if you experience hurt, humiliation or distress because of their actions.
Making other types of complaints
Health complaints organisations
If you are unhappy about the ethical or professional conduct of a health practitioner, you can contact the health complaints organisation in your state or territory. In NSW, you can contact the Health Care Complaints Commission (call 1800 043 159). Serious cases may be referred to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
This section does not cover breaches of duty of care by health providers. If you are thinking about making a medical negligence claim, seek independent legal advice.
For more on this, see Cancer care and your rights.
Podcast for people affected by cancer
The information on this page is also available for download.
We thank the chief investigators from the Out with Cancer research project: Prof Jane Ussher, Prof Janette Perz, Prof Martha Hickey, Prof Suzanne Chambers, Prof Gary Dowsett, Prof Ian Davis, Prof Katherine Boydell, Prof Kerry Robinson and Dr Chloe Parton. Partner investigators were Dr Fiona McDonald and A/Prof Antoinette Anazodo. Research Associates were Dr Rosalie Power, Dr Kimberley Allison and Dr Alexandra J. Hawkey.
We thank the reviewers of our LGBTQI+ People and Cancer booklet: Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Heath Psychology and Chief Investigator, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; ACON; Dr Kimberley Allison, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Dr Katherine Allsopp, Supportive and Palliative Care Specialist, Westmead Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Antoinette Anazodo OAM, Paediatric and Adolescent Oncologist, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Megan Bathgate, Consumer; Gregory Bock, Clinical Nurse Consultant–Oncology Coordinator, Urology Cancer Nurse Coordination Service, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Morgan Carpenter, Executive Director, Intersex Human Rights Australia (formerly OII Australia); Prof Lorraine Chantrill, Medical Co-Director Cancer Services, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; A/Prof Ada Cheung, Endocrinologist, Head, Trans Health Research Group, Department of Medicine (Austin Health), The University of Melbourne, VIC; Bonney Corbin, Australian Women’s Health Network; Cristyn Davies, Research Fellow, Specialty of Child and Adolescent Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney and Children’s Hospital Westmead Clinical School, NSW; Prof Ian Davis, Professor of Medicine, Monash University and Eastern Health, Medical Oncologist, Eastern Health, Chair, ANZUP Cancer Trials Group, VIC; Rebecca Dominguez, President, Bisexual Alliance Victoria; Liz Duck-Chong, Projects Coordinator, TransHub and Trans Health Equity, ACON, NSW; Lauren Giordano, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Natalie Halse, BCNA Consumer Representative; Jem Hensley, Consumer; Prof Martha Hickey, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, The University of Melbourne, and Director of the Gynaecology Research Centre, The Women’s Hospital, VIC; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker – Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Amber Loomis, Policy and Research Coordinator, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia; Julie McCrossin and Melissa Gibson, Consumers; Dr Fiona McDonald, Research Manager, Canteen, NSW; Dr Gary Morrison, Shine a Light (LGBTQIA+ Cancer Support Group); Penelope Murphy, Cancer Council NSW Liaison, Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW; Dr Rosalie Power, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Jan Priaulx, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Paul Scott-Williams, Consumer; Simone Sheridan, Sexual Health Nurse Consultant, Sexual Health Services, Austin Health, VIC; Cheryl Waller and Rhonda Beach, Consumers.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.