Sarah Jane Riddell mediator and collaborative lawyer writes for Resolution. Brighton & Hove Law thank Jo O’ Sullivan for running this workshop

Sarah Jane Riddell mediator and collaborative lawyer writes for Resolution.  Brighton & Hove Law thank Jo O’ Sullivan for running this workshop

Posted by on Aug 21, 2021 in News

Equality already achieved? Experiences of LGBT + lawyers in practice

by Sarah-Jane Riddell


This was an informal and thought-provoking workshop, run by Jo O’Sullivan, Remyhs Baker, Oscar Davies, Bridget Garrood and Stephen Lue. They took turns to provide a candid account of their individual experiences both in work and personal contexts.
It was an opportunity to participate in an open discussion that was heartfelt and affirmed the strength of the LGBT + community generally as well as within the sphere of family law for both our clients and our colleagues.
The opening question “Are we there yet?” sparked discussion of a wide range of topics where there had been a positive change in recent times, but where ongoing work was hoped for, including:

  • As an LGBT + lawyer, is it possible to live authentically at work and also generally – or are there still barriers and prejudices? Participants and panellists shared the trepidation which had arisen for each of them surrounding coming out, with fears of how others may process this information. Experiences of having to come out repeatedly to family, friends and professionally were common. This could bring relief and emancipation, but some recipients of this information could not seem to accept it, humouring it as “just a phase” rather than taking it seriously.
  • Panellists and attendees spoke of experiences earlier in their lives where they had been made to suffer a sense of shame – with terms such as gay and lesbian being used as accusations to the extent that they learned to anticipate homophobia as they grew up. The positive aspect of this was to promote an empathy with the similar experiences of LGBT + clients in order to work more effectively with them. There have been positive changes over recent years, yet there is still a sense of needing to strive for perfectionism, for example as a lawyer, to undermine the homophobic attitudes often encountered.

The consensus was that equality is still some way off – Stephen Lue encapsulated this wryly with the phrase “it is not quite the new dawn yet”.
The workshop ended with the panellists each being asked “what legal change would you make?” and they answered this by expressing their hopes for continuing the advances already made, which included:

  • to continue the work to advocate for young people in the LGBT + community
  • although the vocabulary around same-sex marriage has improved in recent years, this needs to be extended to end the difficulties still experienced in the lived experience of the LGBT + community
  • to improve access to LGBT + information to build a more visible community where experiences can be shared openly
  • people shared passionate accounts of what Pride meant for them and welcomed how this has grown so that there are many events beyond London now, including Legal Pride. It has become more commercialised and is sometimes criticised for that, but it is positive that companies, including law firms, are willing to participate and sponsor Pride so that it is a mainstream event. Pride gives greater visibility and prominence to the LGBT + community and the hope is that this will contribute to taking down the remaining barriers and prejudices still experienced
  • demedicalising the process to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate would be welcomed
  • improving support for victims of domestic abuse within LGBT + families is a priority
  • legal recognition of non-binary status needs to be achieved
  • marriage provision for LGBT + couples is still not equal. Unlike heterosexual marriages, same sex marriages are still not recognised in many jurisdictions. Jo and Bridget shared a link to their recent blog exploring this area in more detail

There was a sense that this workshop was only scratching the surface of the many areas which were highlighted and the lively and illuminating thoughts that were shared gave an indication of all the work that is still to be done. Although so much progress has been made in the recent past to try to achieve equality for all, there is an underlying awareness that rights can be reversed and so there are continuing challenges to try to ensure that this will not happen. Ultimately, the hope is for continued progress to the point where no one would need to be treated as “other” or have to “come out”. Only then would equality finally be achieved.

Read the original post on the Resolution website.

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