By donning wigs and gowns and marching through London to mark last month’s Pride, a group of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) barristers were walking proof that sexual minority lawyers have finally gained some degree of workplace recognition.
Yet the fact that until last year the profession had never been formally represented at the celebratory rally, which has been staged across the UK since 1972, shows that any change in attitude is nascent.
The results of a Law Society study, carried out with the help of LGBT network InterLaw and LGB charity Stonewall, certainly back this up. While law firms and barristers’ chambers will flaunt their diversity statistics, the fact is few can have any idea of the sexual diversity they actually hold within their ranks. With many LGBs equating openness about their sexuality with career suicide, the statistics are stark: 96 per cent of gay men and 92 per cent of lesbians are ’out’ in their personal lives, yet just nine per cent of gay lawyers and 27 per cent of lesbian lawyers are out at work.
Until firms and chambers can prove that sexuality does not influence decisions about individual career advancement, the gap between these figures is not likely to change. Yet there’s a horrible Catch-22 in that before LGB lawyers’ professional recognition can be recorded, they have to be recognised literally.
Thanks to InterLaw, Stonewall and the 27 successful tribunal claims brought since the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Act was passed seven years ago, this is entirely possible.
Having lobbied for laws such as the employment and civil partnership acts, and having played a major role in having Section 28 repealed, LGB lawyers have helped make society more just. Such campaigners can clearly be agents for change in their own workplaces too. After all, it’s clear there is still much to be done.
Taking to the streets with a bunch of people who already share your aspirations is one thing. Turning those aspirations into a professional reality when colleagues might not share your beliefs is another.
With the Law Society research identifying a ’pink plateau’ beyond which sexual minority lawyers have difficulty progressing, the quest for equality could have only just begun.