QLT Pride Week Panel Throwback
Updated: Nov 7, 2020
For those who missed the Pride Panel and its passionate participants...
This year’s Pride Week has been vastly different from what all of us are used to. Many of us were left in a slump, being unable to collectively celebrate the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Not being able to communally commemorate the amazing leaps that have been made for LGBTQIA+ community regarding social acceptance, legal rights and the celebration of LGBTQIA+ culture has been heart-breaking. Yet, this did not stop QLT from celebrating our beautiful queer community. A week ago today QLT hosted their first panel event with some fantastic legal minds who exist in our colourful and beautiful LGBTQIA+ family. The panel was deeply insightful, leaving us with plenty of food for thought. As such, we wanted to share some of the topics that came up, in confidence that you will find them just as interesting as the QLT team did.
The panel discussion began by considering the presence of LGBTQIA+ networks in the work environment. Scott Halliday, an associate Family Law solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, began by saying that the monthly LGBTQIA+ network meetings at Irwin Mitchell are invaluable. He imparted sound advice during this segment claiming that it is essential to find allies early in your career. Not everyone is going to be interested or enthusiastic about progressive development within the profession, and stated that experiencing this disinterest can be deflating and disheartening. Finding and surrounding yourself with people who support you and have a similar mindset regarding the broader aims of your career can alleviate this. Jonathan Cooper OBE, an International Human Rights lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers, talked about the LGBTQIA+ network ‘OUTy Street’. He shared that since the implementation of this pun-y and inclusive network, his chambers have been transformed. ‘It’s not just been transformative for LGBTQ+ people, but it’s transformed ALL of chambers. Everyone seems more connected and close. It shows how important these LGBT groups are.’
‘It’s not just been transformative for LGBTQ+ people, but it’s transformed ALL of chambers. Everyone seems more connected and close. It shows how important these LGBT groups are.’
Commenting on the trans perspective, Robin White (a barrister at Old Square Chambers and the first person to transition in practice at the discrimination bar) made a comment on her personal network. She mentioned Caroline Harrison QC who was the first person to transition in practice, but not in the area of discrimination. Robin exclaimed that ‘she was a very useful person to go to in chambers’, and that her own transition was assisted by her. Now she sees herself in the same position in which she viewed Caroline taking on this role of assistance and guidance. Robin mentioned that she is contacted at least once a month by individuals about transitioning, or contacted by firms who want to aid the transition of one of their employees. She stated that ‘it is a delight and a responsibility for me be a representative for the trans community in this way.’
‘It is a delight and a responsibility for me be a representative for the trans community in this way.’
Outside of large, diverse, and progressive cities, the general narrative is that LGBTQIA+ networks are fewer and far between. Bridget Garrood, a Family law solicitor in Exeter commented on this during the discussion. She explained that when she started practising, there was ‘no network in my firm, city, or really anywhere west of Reading!’ She was a member of the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association (LAGLA) which put on social events, but when she joined in the mid-90s, they were mostly situated in London. This was ‘pre-internet’ so newsletters would be delivered to your home and one’s sphere of socialisation was smaller. This was Bridget’s primary network and she didn’t actually meet anyone else who was part of the network for the first 10 years of being a member. She shared how the Law society didn’t have an LGBT lawyers division until 2016, which is shockingly recent. During this segment she stated that 2016 was the first time she felt connected to an LGBTQIA+ network in any professional sense. She was in a small firm, and was the only LGBTQIA+ partner for 20 years. Bridget was open and vulnerable in telling us that this was quite a lonely place for her, and that being part of a network entirely transformed her experience of being a lawyer. From this she went on to say ‘that’s why it’s a no-brainer for me to support QLT.’
‘It’s a no-brainer for me to support QLT’
When the discussion moved onto micro-aggressions in the work place, although such incidents were described by almost all panellists to be few and far between, there is still a way to go. Dr. Chelvan, a barrister at No.5 Chambers who specialises in sexual and gender expression within refugee work, was open in sharing his experience. He talked about a complaint that had been raised against him in regard to his conduct. When the claim was made he knew something was not quite right about it; ‘we all sense when there is something not right.’ The person who made the complaint against Dr Chelvan’s conduct commented on the fact that he wore nail vanish in a conference; the insinuation being that he wasn’t ‘manly’ enough in relation to the type of barrister that was wanted. Although this was undoubtedly an unpleasant incident, he expressed that he has faced many more micro-aggressions in relation to him being a person of colour, than in relation to being part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Throughout the panel discussion, Dr. Chelvan was adamant that an emphasis must be made on intersectionality. As an Indian woman in the queer community, I must agree. The LGBTQIA+ family needs to be more aware of the marginalisation of people of colour. Dr. Chelvan beautifully articulated this: ‘We have to realise that from our experience as queer people, we should form alliances with other marginalised groups to empower them. Because of the micro-aggressions we face as queer people, we have a unique insight into how marginalised groups are also treated.’ This must be used to aid our allyship of people who exist in the intersections of marginalised groups. He also commented on the clear racial divide within the LGBTQIA+ community, which seems non-sensical in consideration of the fact that we all, as a queer family, know what it feels like to be cast aside due to our ‘otherness’.
‘We have to realise that from our experience as queer people, we should form alliances with other marginalised groups to empower them. Because of the micro-aggressions we face as queer people, we have a unique insight into how marginalised groups are also treated.’
In terms of the micro-aggressions that are weaponised towards the trans community, Robin White shared her experience of being misgendered. She explained that although being misgendered is ‘par of the course’, there is a clear emotional animosity that comes with being purposefully misgendered after being corrected. In legal terms, when it comes to the damage of misgendering, the mens rea is of great importance. She spoke of an incident at a law firm which she was advising, where a receptionist repeatedly referred to her as Mr. White after having been corrected. The receptionist was part of a religious group whose spiritual leader has told her that transgender people were to be challenged in the same way racist people were. Yet, in what world can transphobia be comparable to the work of anti-racism? During the panel discussion she stated that the firm had told their employee that she could either keep those views at home or find another job. The employee chose the latter. Robin’s description of the events demonstrated her gratitude towards the firm’s position. ‘The firm needn’t have taken that step 10 years ago. But they did.’
Scott Halliday explained that his experience was quite different from the other panellists. He stated that all his colleagues had been incredibly supportive and at the end of the day all they wanted was authenticity. He stated ‘I have been insecure about my sexuality, but no one has actually ever been bothered by it’. As Scott was the youngest panellist, his positive experience speaks to how the climate within the legal profession has changed for the better. Although such a smooth experience may not arise for all people in all situations, it seems aspiring lawyers need not fear being judged or ridiculed due to their LGBTQIA+ identity in the same way that previous generations of lawyers have. Jonathan followed this sentiment by reminiscing about frequenting gay bars in the 90s. ‘I remember going to gay bars with people from firms and seeing them so worried that the people they work with would see them there. People at the time could have been set aside for promotion or even let go. The progress since then is unrecognisable. And that change is being pushed by people who are coming into the profession being unapologetically themselves.’ Furthering this sentiment, Robin stated that smart businesses understand this very well. She stated that, in essence, to get the best out of the people who work for you, you need to allow them to be themselves and to do their jobs without unnecessary bars, restraints or stigmas.
‘I remember going to gay bars with people from firms and seeing them so worried that the people they work with would see them there. People at the time could have been set aside for promotion or even let go. The progress since then is unrecognisable. And that change is being pushed by people who are coming into the profession being unapologetically themselves.’
During the Q and A segment of the panel, the important question of trans and non-binary inclusion within the legal profession was posed to the panellists. Bridget stated that with everything that has been happening in relation to trans rights, it is important that trans and non-binary inclusion is at the forefront of our minds, both within and outside of the workplace. She spoke of leading a project within the Law Society LGBT lawyers division for trans and non-binary inclusion within law firms. Legal pride is all-inclusive! This, in theory, is true. However, it is no secret that there are a larger number of trans people who do not feel that they can be ‘out’ in the legal profession. As such, Bridget and her team’s project includes the production of podcasts to help firms ensure that trans employees have a safe space to come out. This will accompany a guide for law firms on how to be supportive allies. This will launch on the 18th of July!
The topics discussed throughout the panel were relevant to the current climate within the legal profession, demonstrating the vast improvements that have been made and the areas in which the profession still needs to grow. The QLT panel was a wonderful event, and the panellists’ honesty and openness was brave, inspiring and insightful. I can safely say that all of us at QLT are extremely grateful for their participation! To attend events such as these, keep an eye on our Events page. As seen, you definitely wouldn’t want to miss them.
By Sonal Master
Administrative Assistant and Blogger.