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Being an out gay lawyer hasn’t been easy – but the profession is changing

Being an out gay lawyer hasn’t been easy – but the profession is changing

gay lawyer

I can only speak from my personal experience of being a barrister over the past 26 years. But my fundamental feeling is that the Bar has changed.

But not as much as I’d like, and certainly not as quickly as I wanted. However, it has changed and that will continue.

The recent ‘Sexuality at the Bar’ report is a valuable and powerful contribution to the ongoing work of encouraging diversity within the legal profession.

It found that over half of LGBT lawyers in the UK are experiencing homophobic discrimination at work or while studying.

So what is next for the profession?

Being an out gay lawyer is different to when I first started

When I first joined the Bar, or the ‘legal profession’, like other parts of the justice system – it was not a friendly place.

I initially did not feel comfortable enough to come out. This was at a time when homophobic and other prejudices were more prevalent and less challenged.

I feel that the harassment and bullying was casual, but still damaging. It was more prevalent 20 years ago than it is now too.

I’m not minimising the experiences of LGBT+ barristers now, I accept what they say.

However, my own experience – is different.

There was very little formalized support; you had to find it yourself. Though there were professional groups that also had a social element.

These could be really helpful, and it’s a model that many minority groups have used, and still use, successfully.

I’m glad that there is more support available to minorities at the Bar – it demonstrates that we are moving forward.

Although there is much left to do.

Taking the initiative

I voted with my feet, and left to help found Garden Court North (GSN), which was far more open and diverse.

The GCN is a progressive set of civil liberties and human rights barristers committed to publicly funded work.

This helped me to come out professionally, although at least some solicitors already knew I was gay, as did my colleagues in chambers.

I was the one who was worried – not them, and they were very supportive of me.  Although I’ve moved on, I’ll always think well of them for standing with me.

Whether one is out at work or not is a personal choice.

My personal view is that being myself is the best choice for me.  From experience, I know the pressure to edit out part of your personality.

It’s the perceived pressure that this is necessary to protect yourself from harassment.  It just creates more pressure.

Pressure to have this alternative narrative and the stress of avoiding sharing personal information with colleagues or switching pronouns around.  I understand why this happens, but it’s not healthy. In fact, it’s exhausting.

I feel that it contributes to even more stress in an already stressful job.  I’m gay, I’m out, and my current Chambers is well known as being a welcoming and diverse place to work. When you fight and advocate for others, it can sometimes be difficult to do this for yourself.

Fortunately, there are friends and colleagues who can help with this.

The Law Society walking in London Pride 2016 The Law Society

Challenging Homophobia among lawyers

The Bar Council has done a lot of work over the years to push for diversity within the Bar. Including pushing back against harassment and providing support to LGBT+ barristers.

From my own experience, I know that it can be difficult to challenge prejudice. But I also know that the Bar Council is working to challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

The ‘Wellbeing’ project is a great example of how the Bar Council is working to support mental health issues at the Bar, including those linked to sexuality and harassment.

I’ve marched in the LGBT+ lawyers section of the London Pride Parade for the past 5 years, and my dog, Lady Justice Madge, seems to have become a bit of fixture – she gets more attention than I do!

Pride is a great way to raise LGBT+ visibility within the profession, including on three occasions having the Chair of the Bar Council march with us.

The Bar Council arranged for LGBT+ barristers to contribute a video blog so that we could share our experiences and thoughts.  This seemed to get a lot of attention online and on Twitter.

It’s important to bear in mind that statistics don’t tell you everything, and correlation is not causation. Our story and our journey make us who we are.

Simon Robinson is a member of the Bar Council’s Equality and Diversity and Social Mobility Committee and its Panel of Disability Advisors.

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