With more than a million participants, Pride has now become one of the biggest parades in the country. And yet up until a year ago it never had formal representation from the legal profession, when around 40 turned out.
This year that figure trebled thanks to a number of different interest groups such as Interlaw, the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association, the Bar Lesbian And Gay Group, as well as bodies such as the Law Society, the Bar Council, Ilex and the Junior Lawyers’ Division (JLD) of the Law Society.
“It was a stunning day and a fantastic turnout,” says Kevin Poulter, a committee member of the JLD and an assistant solicitor at Sheffield firm Wake Smith & Tofields. “The reaction from the crowd was incredible. It’s less of a protest now and more of a celebration. It wasn’t just lesbian and gay lawyers – we had people with us who were straight and who were there to show their support, and I get more from that because it’s not just about gay lawyers going on parade.”
The group’s slogan was ’Equality Under The Law’, with everyone wearing red T-shirts to chime with Pride 2010’s theme of ’Paint The Town Ruby Red’. The only exceptions were the barristers who had decided to march in full wig and gown. In the pummelling heat of the afternoon of 3 July, they suffered a little, says Poulter, although even their rig-out could not quite outshine the Lady Gaga impersonator marching in front of them in four-inch platforms.
There was a serious message, however. “We had to think who we were trying to speak to in wanting to show a presence,” says Poulter. “We were promoting the equality aspect of the law and hopefully showing potential and aspiring lawyers that they shoudn’t be put off.”
Poulter highlights Interlaw’s recent research on judicial culture, which suggests that lesbian and gay lawyers fear that their private lives would be subject to too much scrutiny if they decided to apply for the bench. Simmons & Simmons corporate partner and Interlaw founder Daniel Winterfeldt, who was another Pride participant, says: “Our respondents sent the clear message that more work needs to be done to educate the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community that the judiciary is a career option and how the application and selection process works, as well as the need for LGBT role models within the judiciary.”
Winterfeldt agrees with Poulter that there is a need for the legal sector to have a clear presence at Pride. “It’s important for many reasons,” he says, “including raising the visibility of the sector as a career option for LGBT professionals and showing support for equality under the law for all LGBT people.”
But with civil partnership now legal, is the fight won? Campaigners point to gay marriage as the next step. Poultonargues that the fact that fundamentalist Christian groups protested at the march underlines the fact that sexual diversity is nowhere near universally accepted.
However, senior Conservative politicians are starting to embrace a view that LondonMayor Boris Johnson also supports. Speaking at the beginning of the demonstration, Johnson proclaimed: “If the Conservatives and Liberals can get together in a national coalition and settle their differences, I don’t see why you can’t have gay marriage.”
His declaration heartened many of the lawyers at Pride. “Boris’s statement at Pride is welcome and marriage equality is a logical next step for many after the implementation of civil partnerships,” states Winterfeldt. “Since the Civil Partnership Act is identical to the laws governing marriage except for the name, shouldn’t the label on the tin match what’s inside
This article first appeared in The Lawyer on 12 July 2010