What is discrimination?

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Discrimination means treating one person differently from another in a way that is unfair – for example, treating one person less favourably simply because he or she has HIV.

While stigma is sometimes hard to pin down (it may be found in people’s attitudes or beliefs), discrimination is a little easier to describe. It’s about actual behaviour.

Depending on the situation in which discrimination occurs, it may be against the law. The Equality Act protects against discrimination at work, in education and when using shops, businesses and services.

The Equality Act applies in England, Wales and Scotland. In Northern Ireland, similar protections are given by the Disability Discrimination Act.

Here are some examples of what is against the law:

  • A dental surgery that refuses to register people with HIV as patients.
  • A company that pays a lower salary to employees with HIV.
  • A sports club that excludes people with HIV because of unjustified fears of HIV transmission.

All people living with diagnosed HIV are protected by the law, in the same way as people who are discriminated against because of their race, sex, age, sexual orientation or religion.

Although many people living with HIV would not consider themselves to have a disability, the legal protection comes from HIV being defined as a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act.

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