It’s an odd feeling walking down the middle of Oxford Street on a bustling, balmy Saturday afternoon in July, especially when you are being applauded, whooped and cheered as you go about your day, but that’s what happens once a year as London comes out to celebrate Pride.
We’re a long way from the days where members of the gay community dared only to show their faces when those faces were lost andanonymised in a sea of many others, but don’t doubt that there is still good cause to stand up, be counted and let people know not just that ‘we’re here and we’re queer’, but that it really makes little difference to who you are, what you do and how you do it.
Much has been said about the diversity of the profession over the past few years. Surveys have been completed, statistics have been gathered and analysed, reports have been compiled and commentators have had their say on what is right, or most often wrong, with the state of things. Over the past ten years or so I have seen a change, certainly at the junior end of the profession, in the breadth of diverse backgrounds, colours and races that are entering the profession. More noticeable are the numbers of women starting out in their legal careers. Of course, like most changes that are important, it will take time for there to be any sense of the profession better reflecting the clients and public that it serves, but it must be allowed to run its course. There may be occasion to steer the course back on track, but that is done by gentle encouragement, not by stonewalling or building barricades from which to wag fingers.
Unlike race, colour, gender and perhaps even age, recognising the representation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans lawyers among our rank is more difficult. Sexual orientation is something that can be – and has been – hidden from our closest friends, family and colleagues. It’s not easy for those who may feel that they will be misunderstood, undervalued, treated differently (or worse) to ‘come out’ and be who they really are and the best they can be. Only when they feel comfortable with themselves, have had time to come to terms with their feelings and the fact that they are part of a still misunderstood minority, will they be comfortable to speak to others about it.
Law firms on the whole have taken diversity very seriously, acknowledging failings and actively addressing them. The Law Society has introduced its diversity and inclusion charter that is gaining signatories by the day, each of which is committed to delivering on promises to promote diversity, and recognises almost 250 organisations doing what they can and standing by their promises.
There is, however, still some way to go. The annual representation of lawyers at Pride events is a simple statement witnessed by those already in the profession, aspiring lawyers and those to whom we offer our services.
Lawyers often feature on the ‘most hated’ lists of occupations, alongside estate agents and politicians, so it sits uneasily for us to be celebrated. But this is what happens each year as the Pride London parade twists its way past some of London’s most famous landmarks – a refreshing escape from the office.
The legal profession has enjoyed representation at Pride London since 2009 when I marched with only 40 colleagues, mostly drawn from across the formative Junior Lawyers Division. Since then, with the support of the Law Society, the contingent of LGBT lawyers and their supporters has grown year on year, extending to barristers, chartered legal executives and law students.
This year, those gathered – straight, gay, trans or indifferent – will once again be promoting the theme ‘Equality under the law’. Last year we noisily extended our support to the ‘Sound off for Justice’ campaign in response to the deep cuts being made to the legal aid budget, affecting the availability of legal advice and representation to those most in need often at the periphery of society. This year we will be parading under the banner ‘Lawyers for equal marriage’, an issue of inequality that is simple yet seemingly misunderstood by many. I, together with Law Society council member Keith Etherington, have already produced a short video message in support of the Out4Marriage campaign, which you can watch on YouTube on the Out4Marriage page. I’m pleased that soon to be Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff has added her voice to the campaign and will join us on the parade.
This year, on 7 July 2012, London Pride becomes World Pride and will welcome visitors and participants from around the globe. So too will the legal contingent, having extended invitations to lawyers’ associations around the world through the Law Society and Bar Council. Please come and join us and celebrate the diversity of the legal profession.
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 3 July 2012, and is reproduced by kind permission