LGBT history month is a chance to reflect on the challenges faced by many who fought to overcome antiquated views, writes Amy Clowrey
February sees the annual celebration of LGBT history month in the UK. This year includes a focus on law as 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales.
According to the 2015 practising certificate holder survey, 2,417 lawyers registered that they were gay/lesbian and 438 that they were bisexual. In total, 2.6 per cent of certificate holders registered as LGBT. With that in mind, last year the Law Society established the LGBT Lawyers Division to bring solicitors together to share best practice and address current issues and challenges in a supportive environment.
While it is crucial to celebrate how much progress has been made, 50 years on, LGBT people still face discrimination, as do many other minority groups. Many of those at the junior end of the profession often feel they cannot speak out if they encounter discrimination as they are concerned about the implications or perceived consequences of doing so. For whatever reason, many suffer in silence.
Discrimination is never acceptable, and junior lawyers need to know there are consequences for those who discriminate against them. It is important that junior lawyers who feel they are treated differently because of a characteristic report their concerns and stop the same abuse happening to someone else. There are protections in place to prevent repercussions for complainants, and many junior lawyers will find their firms are supportive. As the last half-century has shown, times have changed. What was once acceptable behaviour or just plainly ignored is no longer acceptable.
Being subjected to prejudice for whatever reason - be it sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race, disability, marriage and civil partnership, or pregnancy and maternity - can cause health issues such as anxiety and depression. These knock-on effects can be damaging, impacting on productivity and one’s general approach to work. At such a crucial stage in our careers, junior lawyers need to be able to focus on their jobs without having to handle stress-related problems as well.
The JLD is aware that a number of our members suffer from stress arising from discrimination and other reasons in the workplace. We are keen to assist those members where possible. It is for this reason that throughout 2017 the JLD is paying particular attention to mental health and wellbeing and helping those who encounter these issues.
We work closely with LawCare, a charity which promotes and supports positive mental health in the legal community. The charity will be attending all JLD forums throughout the year to highlight the importance of taking care of ourselves. Further information and support is available at www.lawcare.org.uk.
LGBT history month is an opportunity to reflect on the challenges faced by many who have fought to overcome discrimination in the past. Junior lawyers are making the profession more diverse than it has ever been, and it is time to instil in people the courage to stand up to those who continue to hold antiquated and unacceptable views.
Amy Clowrey is a committee member the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 14 February 2017 and is reproduced by kind permission.