Recent social progress in LGBT+ issues in the UK is a cause for celebration but it is not the end of the story. Heteronormative stereotypes persist and can be harmful.
In the Medical Negligence and Personal Injury team we frequently work with disabled clients and understand the challenges that they face, not just in practical terms, but in relation to social attitudes to disability. However, disability is not the only aspect of a disabled person’s identity. Issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity are often relevant but can easily be overlooked.
When preparing claims on behalf of individuals (whether or not they are disabled), it is important to be aware of and challenge unwarranted assumptions about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
We should also be mindful when applying legal precedent, if those decisions are the result of outdated views, such as traditional gender roles. For example, general damages payable in respect of facial disfigurement historically differed between men and women, on the basis that a woman’s appearance was more important than that of a man’s. In 2012, retired Judge Dame Janet Smith challenged this, in her forward to the Judicial College guidelines, encouraging judges and lawyers to assess the effects of disfigurement on an individual Claimant, without making assumptions based on gender.
Even where outdated views regarding gender and sexual orientation do not produce different legal outcomes, they can still reinforce social stereotypes or erase from view important aspects of an individual’s identity. For these reasons we are committed to ‘seeing the whole person’ and avoiding unnecessary (and often inaccurate) assumptions.