As we look back on five decades since the first Gay Pride march was held in the UK in 1972, it’s important to reflect on the progress made, as well as focus on the challenges that remain. One pressing issue is the recent government decision to exclude transgender people from the ban on conversion therapies in the UK. Action is needed to get a full legislative ban passed that protects all LGBTQ+ people from these harmful and abusive practices.
While progress has been made over the last 50 years, prejudices and inequalities remain entrenched in our society. Now is the time to reflect on what needs to be done – and what each of us can do, as legal professionals – to fight for a world where everyone has equal access to justice and opportunities and can live life to the full, regardless of their orientation or identity.
Below are some steps that lawyers and legal teams can take to further LGBTQ+ rights and promote greater diversity, inclusion and equality in the law and in our society.
1. Support projects that campaign for LGBTQ+ rights
Fighting for and facilitating legislative change plays a critical role in transforming LGBTQ+ rights. Consider investing some of your time, energy and expertise in pro bono work that focuses on bringing about positive legislative change that protects the rights and enhance the wellbeing of people who identify as LGBTQ+.
Here are some examples of campaigns leveraging lawyers and the law to make a difference. If you are not able to volunteer your time, you could spread the word or donate funds to support this valuable work.
2. Be an LGBTQ+ ally
If you do not identify as an LGBTQ+ individual, consider how you could play a more active and valuable role as an LGBTQ+ ally in your personal and professional life. Here are some top tips:
For more information on how to make a positive difference as an LGBTQ+ ally, Stonewall suggests several ways in which you can get involved and take action.
3. Support an LGBTQ+ inclusive legal profession
The work to shift mindsets and engrained prejudices needs to reach beyond legislative change. LGBTQ+ individuals still face challenges daily, often in the workplace. Whether you are a full-time employee or a consultant, there are many things you can do to create an inclusive working environment for LGBTQ+ individuals in the law.
One idea is to assess whether there are opportunities for people to raise concerns anonymously or seek confidential support in relation to homophobic, biphobic or transphobic behaviour in your workplace or professional network. Be proactive and speak up if you do not see these safe spaces. You may also be able to share advice on how things could be done better, based on best practices you have observed in your experiences working in different organisations and roles.
4. Organise or attend an inclusion workshop
Ongoing training plays a critical role in ensuring everyone is up to speed on how to build a truly inclusive, safe and progressive working environment – within the workplace and also when engaging with clients and professional peers. Even for those who are well-versed on LGBTQ+ issues, regular education helps to build the current competencies and knowledge needed to make a positive difference.
As a legal department or organisation, make sure your team has access to regular training and invite everyone to participate, including legal consultants. As a consultant, ask about learning and workshop opportunities when you begin in each new role, or look out for free events and training opportunities, such as those offered by the Law Society LGBT+ network.
5. Listen and learn
If you have colleagues, peers, friends or family members who feel comfortable talking about their personal and professional experiences as LGBTQ+ individuals, make the time to actively listen and learn from their lived experiences.
To gain a broader perspective on LGBTQ+ issues and identify new ways in which you can help, you could also volunteer for organisations such as the InterLaw Diversity Forum and/or attend a Pride Parade in your area.
6. Lead by example
A survey by The Law Society during LGBTQ+ History Month 2021 found that while LGBTQ+ respondents felt able to be themselves at work either sometimes (44%) or always (53%), they still lacked LGBTQ+ role models at work. This was the greatest challenge for gay men (42%), lesbian/gay women (55%) and bisexual individuals (78%).
With that in mind, aim to be a positive role model at work and in your professional network. If you have years of experience working in the law, consider how you can be a positive force for change in your professional community. How can you personally support and mentor younger lawyers, and help to create a more inclusive profession – where all individuals can be themselves, share ideas and contribute diverse perspectives?
One simple change that really makes a difference is adding pronouns to your email signature and LinkedIn profile, to signal your support for transgender and non-binary people.
7. Speak out for the LGBTQ+ legal community
The only way we can continue making progress is if we all take accountability for our own actions, words and behaviours. Building on that, take an active role in calling out inappropriate behaviour at work or networking events. Speak out if you hear co-workers or peers making offensive verbal comments, telling jokes based on LGBTQ+ issues, or acting in any way that is homophobic, biphobic or transphobic.
8. Amplify the voices of the LGBTQ+ community
If more people speak out about LGBTQ+ issues, this will exert greater pressure on others to shift their mindsets and take action. Consider providing and supporting platforms that make more LGBTQ+ role models visible, or creating channels for communication and education. Some examples include: blogs, social media and employee resource groups at work which consultants in longer-term placements can join.
At Obelisk Support, we believe in equality, diversity and inclusivity in the law. As a company, our purpose is to create as many opportunities as possible for people to participate in meaningful legal work, regardless of their identity, background or circumstances.
We have long believed that organisations need to find ways to move beyond the ‘tick-box’ approach to equality – to create workplaces that are truly inclusive. This often calls for novel, innovative approaches to working and resourcing a legal team. We have been championing new ways of working for the past decade – partnering with many law firms and legal teams who are equally committed to breaking down the barriers of diversity and inclusion in work.
Working together – with every organisation, team and individual doing what is possible – we can build workplaces, a legal profession, and a society that gives everyone equal rights, regardless of their orientation or identity.
Pride month: lawyers working for LGBT+ equality
Campaigning for LGBT+ equality
As it’s Pride month, we wanted to celebrate some of the projects and campaigns from around the world led by lawyers to further LGBT+ rights.
There are still 71 jurisdictions in the world that criminalise sex between same-sex, consenting adults. All of them criminalise men and 43 criminalise women. 11 of these can and do impose the death penalty for same-sex intimacy (figures from Human Dignity Trust). There are only 29 countries that allow same-sex couples to marry. These figures show the extent of the work still to be done to build a world where everyone has equal rights, regardless of their orientation or identity.
Here are just some of the LGBT+ campaigns leveraging lawyers and the law to make a difference. We only have space to highlight a few of the amazing lawyers and organisations involved, we hope you enjoy reading about their aims and initiatives and are inspired to either get involved or donate funds to support their work.
Human Dignity Trust
The Human Dignity Trust works globally to make strategic challenges to laws that persecute people on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Since 2011 they have provided over £16M of pro-bono legal support to LGBT+ activists around the world. They have supported numerous court cases around the world and, since 2015, campaign for legislative reform.
The Trust also produces reports and films to raise awareness and change attitudes, with previous pieces highlighting the unique persecution that lesbian and bisexual women around the world face, the reform of sexual offence laws in the Commonwealth and the status of hate crime legislation around the world.
With a team of lawyers, researchers and communications specialists, plus the support of a panel of law firms and barristers around the world, Human Dignity Trust are using the law to drive life-changing reform. You can donate and support their work here.
Lawyers for LGBT and Allies Network was founded by a group of lawyers in Japan, to provide legal assistance and eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Providing resources to help employers make their workplaces more LGBT+ friendly, events and research, the group also raises the profile of LGBT+ issues, including the campaign to make same-sex marriage legal in Japan.
The first woman called to the bar in Cameroon, Alice Nkom has spent her life defending people from the LGBT+ community against persecution and prosecution. As well as taking on individual cases, Alice has been vocal in the international media, raising awareness of the discriminatory and violent behaviour her clients are subjected to by the authorities in Cameroon. Hear more about Alice’s latest case and her work here. To find more organisations campaigning for LGBT rights across Africa and the Commonwealth that you can lend your support to, visit The Commonwealth Equality network member page here.
The Vance Center
As part of their work to advance global justice, the Vance Center supports various programmes advancing LGBT+ rights, including the Alliance for Marriage in the Americas. This campaign staffed by lawyers working pro-bono has focused on changing the law to allow same-sex marriage in different countries across the Americas. The Center also partners with other NGOs around the world and works with the UN to campaign for equal rights.
InterLaw Diversity Forum
Chaired by Daniel Winterfeldt, partner at Reed Smith, the InterLaw Diversity Forum has hosted LGBT+ network meetings monthly since 2008. As the group has expanded, they now seek to expand the industry’s thinking across all areas of diversity, with particular focus on cultural change in the workplace and intersectionality.
With projects ranging from toolkits for employers, a diversity survey to help in-house counsel increase diversity within their partner firms, mentoring, research and publications, the Forum has mobilised across the legal industry in the UK to make the profession a better place to work for all.
Rights for all, regardless of orientation or identity
Pride Month prompts us to reflect on the amount of work still to be done in order to ensure that everyone has equal access to justice and can live their lives freely and with equal opportunities, regardless of their orientation or identity. We hope we see the day when this effort is no longer necessary, in the meantime we salute and support those in the legal profession who commit so much year-round to working for change.