Let me start by describing my “coming out experience”. It shouldn’t define one’s path but negative experiences shape how one deals with it going forward. Growing up, I never expected to come out. I wanted a family – I wanted to get married and have children, but that was unthinkable for gay men when I was young. As a result, I resigned myself to living a lie.
However, in 2007, one evening sat on the sofa with my Mum, I decided to come out. I cried for days – relief that I no longer had to live a lie. I had a positive coming out experience, but that’s not always the case for most people. My family and friends embraced me in love and the resounding feeling from them was one of sorrow – why had I felt the need to hide this from them for so long.
The truth is, I couldn’t come out until I had accepted it. Any LGBT+ person knows it’s not a one-time thing. Each time I meet a new colleague, friend or client, I have to come out. I’m lucky that I can mention my husband which makes it much easier, but you note the flicker in their eye. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s almost they’re acknowledging internally “Did he say husband? So, he’s gay?”.
I was given two different views on disclosing my sexuality to employers: 1) Don’t mention it as they won’t want gay people working for them or; 2) go in there and be as open as you can, because they will want members of the LGBT+ community to be hired to improve their diversity rankings. Sadly, nobody commented that I should go in and be myself because that’s what an employer wants!
When it came to vacation schemes, I regretfully referred to my “partner” or “other half”, in order to avoid any pronouns. I truly felt that my sexuality would be held against me.
I decided to be honest when I got my first legal job. Then came another misconception – I would obviously want to be on the LGBT+ committee. Truthfully, I was only just entering the legal profession, I was planning a wedding, and my Dad had recently died. I was struggling to stay afloat and couldn’t have dedicated the time to any LGBT+ initiatives. I wrongly felt that it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until January 2018 when I started at RPC that I had somewhat of an epiphany.
I joined RPC in January 2018 and I was once again anxious for that moment when I first had to come out. I had worked hard to be the best lawyer I can, and I didn’t want to be defined by my sexuality. However, on arrival, I was fortunate enough to hear about RAIN (RPC’s LGBT+ staff network). I signed up to the committee immediately and haven’t looked back since.
It was then that I had my lightbulb moment – I am in a very privileged position and I should use this to try and make life easier for others. If I could act as a role model, others wouldn’t face the same fears I did. I subsequently joined the steering committee for Link, the LGBT+ Insurance Network. I also mentor secondary school students and am heavily involved with our graduate recruitment schemes. During these times I am open about my sexuality, in the hope that I can be a positive role model for future generations.
The legal sector has made great strides in recent years. I truly think it is one of the most welcoming sectors. This is evidenced by how many law firms are in the Stonewall Top 100 and how many attend Pride’s around the UK. Is there still improvement to be made? Of course, but that isn’t just applicable to the legal sector. I think different challenges are now faced – the erasure of trans and bi issues is deeply concerning, and I think the whole LGBT+ community need to work stronger together to improve this.
I’m often asked what is the biggest challenge that lawyers face when trying to work on I&D initiatives and my answer is always the same – time. For lawyer’s, time really is money. We have no tangible product to sell except our time. So in order to organise LGBT+ events and Pride, we have to find the time as well as have the support of our employers – this includes the firm as a whole, but also individual teams.
Do I still face prejudices? Of course. They aren’t as obvious as before, but I still get the bemused look when I mention I’m a huge football fan (how can a gay man possibly like football?), I still get asked who’s the female of the relationship and people still call my husband “your partner”.
That being said, I am in an incredibly fortunate position. I am a white cis man and I do not face the same prejudices as other members of the LGBT+ community and I am incredibly aware of this. My recommendation to people with the same privilege is to talk to members of the LGBT+ community, listen and ask what you can do to help. Only by working together can we make the change needed.
Ashley Daniells is an associate at RPC