With Pride celebrations cancelled this year due to COVID-19 I found myself asking – what does Pride mean to me and, what is my Pride story?
When I first started in the legal industry it wasn’t as much a question of being “out in the office” that I struggled with as much as struggling being “out” generally.
In 2013, when I started as a paralegal at AG, I was in a relationship where my partner and I very much lived in a bubble for nine years and presented ourselves as “just great friends” to the wider world.
Our “bubble” was created through necessity and perpetuated through habit. Family and religious pressures for my then partner meant he could never come out. I respected this and although the signs were clearly there for people to see (if they wished), I was also not ready to come out either.
I was still scarred from my past – seeing how my sister’s transition broke my family and wider community; being labelled as “the normal one”; and feeling the pressure that I had to be the one to hold everyone together and make everyone proud (ironic use of the word!) which culminated in a lack of confidence to explore who I really was, through fear of causing further pain and being rejected.
My first major turning point came when I was given the opportunity to go on a client secondment to Copenhagen. Apart from my suitcase and desire to succeed, when I moved to Copenhagen I did so without any baggage around being gay. I was just me and I wasn’t going to let anyone down or hurt anyone purely based on my sexuality. I was able to hit the reset button.
I returned to the UK two years later to start my training contract, and when I did I felt much more authentic – although I still had the cloud of “coming out” looming over me – I began to think: do I need to come out and if I did, how would this impact my future career and chances of progression?
At the time AG, like many other law firms, had started their D&I journey but they hadn’t really thrown the doors open and fully joined the party. This didn’t particularly bother me; I always considered AG a great place to work. I never thought of myself as a “gay trainee”, I was just a trainee and I had a job to do. If people asked about my sexuality I gave them an honest answer, but I didn’t think it warranted a press release – after all, I don’t expect my straight colleagues to have to come out as being straight.
As I progressed through my training contract, I met a colleague from our London office who asked if I would be interested in joining the OpenAG committee (our LGBTQ+ network – admittedly I didn’t know we even had such a network at the time). My instant response was “sure”, but was that me being a good trainee and saying yes to someone more senior than me in the team? Or was this me thinking ‘yes, I really want to support this and help make change’? The honest answer was the former: again, I didn’t want to let people down.
That was over three years ago now and I can, hand on heart, say it was one of the best decisions I have made in recent years – and one of the best decision for my career. Not only has it allowed me to meet LGBTQ+ colleagues and role models across the business, it has given me a platform to effect change.
I still find myself struggling with my sexuality at times, but over the past three years I have (with the full support of AG) worked hard with my OpenAG colleagues to help educate and raise awareness of LGBTQ+ people and issues across the business and to foster a sense of the office being a “safe space” where people can be their authentic self and not have to worry that their sexuality might negatively impact their career – the legal profession is hard enough! And for me, this concept of a “safe space” is particularly important for the LGBTQ+ community as it might be the only safe space that they have in their life.
I wouldn’t change my Pride journey as it has made me me and my journey will continue. But if I were to give my younger self some advice, it would be to not carry the weight of the expectation of others; just be yourself.
I have already started my next steps by taking on the role of acting CSR and Diversity Manager at AG. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to work with passionate people across the business to effect change not only in an LBGTQ+ context but also across all the strands of diversity (Gender, Disability, Ethnicity and Social Mobility) that the firm has committed to supporting at every level across the entire business. I can’t wait to see where the next 12 months takes me!