Visibility, Unity and Equality: out and proud in the legal sector

22 June 2021

For two weeks during Pride month, Kingsley Napley are publishing a series of blog to celebrate Pride and highlight LGBTQ+ issues from home and abroad.  

In February this year, I attended a virtual talk held by the InterLaw Diversity Forum for LGBT+ History Month. The speakers featured individuals working in the legal sector and each discussed their experience of coming out as trans or non-binary at work. It feels an apt lesson given this year’s Pride theme: Visibility, Unity and Equality.

The contributions have stayed with me since. One spoke about transitioning while joining their law firm. Another discussed using non-binary pronouns with their colleagues and clients. They emphasised that clients want to build relationships with their solicitors and that this helped strengthen their working relationship.  They also explained that, in reality, the clients care about being able to rely on their lawyers to produce good quality work for them and  the speaker knew that they were a dependable, responsive, and motivated lawyer.  It was brilliant to hear about how positive the experience had been.

But how easy is it? In a world which often defaults to cisgender and heterosexual, LGBTQ+ colleagues are faced with having to ‘come out’ everyday, constantly. Do our LGBTQ+ colleagues always feel that they have the right space in which to explore their gender identity or sexuality? Some of the difficulties when coming out to our clients has been explored previously in a previous blog.

The LGBTQ+ community has tended to be underrepresented in the legal sector, but according to statistics this has improved in recent years. Since 2014, LGBTQ+ equality charity Stonewall has been compiling a list of the top 20 most inclusive law firms for LGBTQ+ individuals and a top 100 list for the employers. The Law Society’s 2019 survey showed that approximately 2% of solicitors confirmed that their gender identity was different to that assigned to them at birth, compared to 1% of the general UK population. 3% of solicitors confirmed they were lesbian, gay, bisexual or another non-heterosexual orientation, compared to 2% in the general UK workforce.

These statistics may seem reassuring, but we should be wary of placing our measure of inclusivity as a sector on statistics and rankings alone. It’s important to remember that they represent real people’s lives and experiences, their hopes and anxieties about being authentic while at work.

It is important to be a supportive and visible ally at work.  By doing so, it creates and emphasises that the culture in the workplace is truly inclusive and will hopefully contribute to our colleagues feeling comfortable coming out.   My colleague, Moira Campbell, has previously published a  blog on how employers can help to create this. By way of example, here are a few tips to put into practice:

  • Advocate. In a meeting, think about whether the interests of your LGBTQ+ colleagues being represented in that space. Who should be at the table with you?
  • Be a champion for your LGBTQ+ colleagues. Recommend them for opportunities and stand up for them if you see or hear something that is wrong. You can do this in your personal life, by supporting LGBTQ+, Black and Asian-owned businesses, initiatives and charities.
  • Don’t be embarrassed. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from the InterLaw Diversity Forum talk was to accept it when you get it wrong (which you almost certainly will). For example, if you use the incorrect pronouns for someone, give a sincere apology and move on. You may feel uncomfortable for a moment, but in the long run you will grow as a person and an ally.
  • Be a scholar. As an ally, you may have no experience or understanding of the community that you support. You don’t need to. There is a wonderful array of resources which can help you do this, so be prepared to learn, unlearn, and relearn.
  • Understand the importance of amplifying LGBTQ experience in popular culture. We have included some suggestions below for books, films and TV shows which include LGBTQ characters and storylines.  We recently organised a Diversity Children’s Book Drive initiative, which provided diversity-led books for children in local schools.  Please see the list of books here.

Books

Detransition, Baby (Torrey Peters)

The Black Flamingo (Dead Atta)

Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide (Kate Charlesworth)

Wow, No Thank You (Samantha Irby)

Non-Binary Lives: An Anthology of Intersecting Identities (Jos Twist & others)

In the Dream House (Carmen Maria Machado)

Who Killed My Father (Edouard Louis)

Rainbow Milk (Paul Mendez)

Patsy (Nicole Dennis-Benn)

Fun House (Alison Bechdel)

Films

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma)

Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti)

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (Victoria Cruz)

Milk (Gus van Sant)

We Were Here (David Weissman)

Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston)

The Boys in the Band (2020, Joe Mantello or 1970, William Friedkin)

Pride (Matthew Warchus)

Disclosure (Sam Feder)

TV

Atypical (Robia Rashid)

Pose (Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Steven Canals)

It’s a Sin (as well as Queer as Folk, also written by Russell T. Davies)

Gentleman Jack (Sally Wainwright)

Feel Good (Mae Martin)

Sense8 (Lana & Lilly Wachowski and J Michael Straczynski)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Phoebe Alexander joined Kingsley Napley in 2020. She is currently a trainee solicitor in the Medical Negligence and Personal Injury team.
 
Her previous seat was with the Private Client team, where she assisted with the administration of trusts and estates, and the drafting of Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney. Phoebe also assisted with Court of Protection matters, including the drafting of Deputyship applications. 

 

 

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LGBTQ bulletin board

LGBTQ bulletin board

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