I don’t consider that I “came out” at any one moment. It was over a period of years that I built pride in my identity as a gay man. At a recent LGBTQ+ event I was asked to choose a symbol that represented my coming out, I chose an airplane.
I would consider myself a timid public transport user, but after receiving my training contract offer at Trowers & Hamlins to start in March 2017 I rattled my feet against the bus floor with a grin from ear to ear. As many legal professionals will understand getting on the ladder to legal practice is stressful and after many failed applications (whilst working in-house as a paralegal at a public sector organisation) I finally got my break.
I hadn’t read up on Trowers’ LGBTQ+ credentials; at that time I was still of the view that I wouldn’t be “coming out” because the risk was too high, I held a fear of the unknown. You can’t be certain how other people will react to your biggest secret. Will it affect my career? Will it affect my friendships? My family? Yes, it would.
In writing this piece, and as a solicitor, I hesitate to write about the lies and deception that I practised in talking about my personal and love lives. But my reality up until my coming out was that I needed my guard up at all times to deflect any questions about my love life. It was exhausting.
My training contract began with a million introductions, and even more deflections. My first seat focused on public law, which I loved given my past experience. I worked closely with two senior partners, Helen Randall and James Hawkins. I quickly learned of Helen’s role as the D&I Champion, I heard about her wife, and saw she was an outspoken advocate on LGBTQ+ issues. This provoked mixed emotions; I took comfort from knowing I was surrounded by people like me, but I still felt coming out wasn’t for me and having “out” role models unsettled and challenged that stubbornly held conclusion. I then learned James was one of Trowers’ LGBTQ+ mentors, at which point it felt like fate was coming into play.
Was Trowers a constructed reality to challenge my secret? I had relatively few LGBTQ+ friends, family and colleagues; but from day one of my training contract I had senior role models normalising my hidden identity, previously marginalised due to limited exposure. My fear of others’ reactions to my sexuality was eased by this experience and soon I came out in strict confidence to a couple of friends. Talking about my inner conflict quickly dispelled my fears; however, I found their reactions reassuringly anti-climactic. My fear of their reaction had manifested into thoughts of a daunting and dramatic event, far from the reality of un-phased expressions only concerned for my happiness.
My second seat at Trowers was in the international offices in the Middle East. In my personal life I felt ready to escalate my coming out period as I had recognised the value, in the confidence of my trusted friends, in speaking openly rather than adopting the exhausting deflection tactics of old. This is why the airplane is my symbol for coming out.
My flight to the Middle East was surprisingly the time that I really felt ready to embark on my journey of letting down my façade and trusting my own identity rather than portraying what I perceived others wanted to see. During my second seat I found my, now, fiancé who helped me build on my confidence in my identity and eventually come out to my parents (after three unsuccessful, consecutive, daily attempts) and the bulk of my friends. On my return to the UK, within two months I represented Trowers during the London Pride march and became fully immersed in the firm’s LGBTQ+ initiatives.
Fast forward three years and I am now the chair of the LGBTQ+ and Allies Network at Trowers having qualified into the real estate department.
Throughout my pride journey I have had the benefit of immense privilege. Firstly, privilege to have visible role models and valuable initiatives to help me feel validated, which is still severely lacking across many sectors, not just for LGBTQ+ people but for people of colour especially and women as well. Secondly, the privilege to have had supportive friends and family and I recognise and sympathise with those living in fear – across the world including in the UK – for their safety and security just for being LGBTQ+. Thirdly that I fortunately found myself at a firm where diversity and inclusion is really valued which has presented me with greater opportunities than challenges, which I recognise is not every one’s experience.
This summer I am proud to be a gay man, and also I will try to be a better ally to BAME communities within the legal sector and beyond as we all have a responsibility now, as ever, to take a stand against prejudice and hatred of all forms.
Julian Jarrett is a solicitor at Trowers & Hamlins