1. Because #ManyVoicesMakeChange
"If we lift everyone's voice we can change the world" Laverne Cox
In the run up to the 10th anniversary of Exeter Pride in 2018, we put out a call to action, which we repeated in 2019 for our staff, clients, friends, families, anyone who may be interested enough to "add your voice to promote equality" under our hashtag#ManyVoicesMakeChange.
For inspiration, we display the quotes in this blog on huge window posters on our high street, our social media accounts and our popular stall in Rougemont Gardens in the Exeter Pride marketplace. This year we added a #ManyVoicesMakeChange Instagram account.
2. Bullying is always unacceptable
"Blowing out someone else's candle doesn't make yours shine any brighter"
Our legal apprentice nailed it in 2018 with this simple gem, which speaks to all forms of bullying and at Pride to the sheer futility of all homophobic, transphobic, and bi-phobic put downs.
Reflecting on why her first Exeter Pride as a member of our firm was so important to her, she adds "I think the main thing for me personally, is seeing at Exeter Pride people of different ages, genders, sexes, cultures and backgrounds being able to freely express themselves in the knowledge that they are surrounded by a group of individuals who are accepting of them for being THEM."
3. Everyone is a potential client and we respect their pronouns and identities
"I want to be treated as a person, not a woman or a man" Jack Munroe
People who identify as non-binary or genderqueer/gender fluid/gender non-conforming still face ignorance and legal exclusion in many settings, including amongst some of their LGBTQIA+ peers.
In 2018 I attended a youth panel debate hosted by Exeter's X-Plore youth service with mainly gender-questioning and trans youngsters, some blazing a courageous trail in their schools and families. It struck me that some of them would have been pre-schoolers at the time of the first Exeter Pride in 2008. I envied them for having grown up in a city where they could take the annual Pride event for granted, and the safe space for such debates to occur. I was proud for my firm to have supported Pride from the start.
4. It's fun! Hard-won LGBTQIA+ joy is infectious
"It is exciting to be able to stand proud and hopefully show the next generation that it is possible to be trans and happy " Jake Graf
We are privileged in Exeter to have one of only 7 specialist gender identity clinics in this country. At Pride we can catch up with clients and their families with whom we have had the chance over the past 15 years or so to develop an unusual degree of legal expertise around their legal and practical issues.
Uniquely perhaps for such a small firm (we are about 30 strong) we have been able, through these links, and by our consistent visible presence at Pride, to build up as individuals , and as a firm, our self-confidence. That is not to say we will not sometimes use clunky old terms, as it's hard to keep up with the evolution of acceptable inclusive language sometimes, but as a firm, our efforts to be as respectful and inclusive as possible mean that the firm as a whole has gained a national reputation as a staunch trans ally.
What we are working towards is the highest standard of best practice deserved by any client or indeed any staff member or their family, at any stage of any gender identity journey. This aspiration demands sensitivity and vigilance around some very specific vulnerabilities and needs, not least the critical importance of the additional rights of trans people to protected information under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 section 22. Not all firms, nor indeed all courts or public bodies are aware it seems that it is a criminal offence to disclose protected information without consent. A good shredder is essential, as arguably this applies even to the disclosure made to a confidential waste disposal service.
5. We make new links
Such as with Sparkle, UK Black Pride, Trans Pride and new for 2019 the first Bi Pride UK.
"You deserve a lover who takes away the lies and brings you hope, coffee and poetry" Frida Kahlo
At Exeter Pride parade 2018 we walked alongside a Bi Pride UK banner announcing the first Bi UK Pride would follow. Some of us hope to be there on 7 September 2019 in London. This has faced setbacks and is long overdue as bi people remain largely invisible and can find it exceptionally hard to come out to both straight and gay friends, family and colleagues. Frida was bi.
6. To shake off any complacency about our human rights
"You have an awful lot to celebrate today, but there is still a great deal more to do in our country, particularly with transgender and non-binary friends amongst us, a lot to do legally" Ben Bradshaw MP for Exeter
In 1997 Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw was the first openly gay parliamentarian to campaign, and to be elected as openly gay. 20 years later at Exeter Pride 2017, as he spoke those words as part of an emotional speech, the roll back of LGBT rights under the Trump administration was already beginning in the USA for trans members of their armed forces. Ben reminded his LGBT+ constituents and their allies of the hatred and opposition he faced and to guard against complacency.
Pride is a time for celebration, but also for protest and solidarity since our rights can be taken away far more swiftly than they were won, as happened in 1988 in the UK with Section 28, and which is threatened increasingly against women with a trans history by an increasingly hostile trans exclusionary lobby.
7. Authentic selves and families
To show our city that our clients, staff and partners, past present and future, can all bring their authentic selves to Cartridges Law.
"Find out who you are and be that person. That's what your soul was put on this earth to be. Find that truth, live that truth and everything else will come" Ellen DeGeneres
I joined Cartridges Law in May 1997, and mindful of the firm's progressive roots and reputation, I was able to be open from the first day about my same sex relationship and step family. I knew as an Articled clerk, then as a solicitor, that I could be legally dismissed from my job, or refused service in a restaurant or denied a hotel room, simply for not being what was considered at that time to be acceptable.
May 1997 was the same month and year that Ben Bradshaw became MP for our Exeter. It would be another 11 years before Exeter had its own Pride event, but the May 1997 election showed that this city would not be bullied by bigotry.
My step family relationships were at that time under the law considered to be only "pretended" by Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which had been enacted on 24 May 1988. My clients who were lesbian and/or trans mothers or gay and/or trans dads were assumed almost by unwritten legal definition to be "unfit" parents. Section 28 stated that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" .
This pernicious and homophobic legislation set back LGBT+ rights in this jurisdiction at a time when other countries were taking courageous strides in the opposite direction. Denmark was the first country to grant legal recognition to same sex unions in 1989.
Section 28 was not repealed until November 2003, by which time I had been in practice as a Family Law Solicitor for over 9 years, during which a grandson had been added to my own family, and over which period my firm had assisted many "pretended" families navigate around the legislative obstacles to legal recognition.
Clients, friends and well-wishers have sought us out year after year at our Pride market place stall, to enjoy our legendary rainbow cupcakes. Some families even make the effort to show off their children, reminding us of our role in advising on obtaining a residence order under the Children Act at a time when lesbian couples could not both appear on their child's birth certificate, so that a "non-birth mother" could gain legal parental responsibility, or preparing donor agreements prior to their child's conception, or on the fertility and parenting law aspects involved.
Exeter Pride for me personally is an annual chance to reflect upon the enormous distance travelled legally, and to show off the support I have enjoyed over the past 20 years from all my former partners at Cartridges Law. On 1 April 1999, I took a partnership, of which I was immensely proud, and also the difficult decision to come out professionally as a lesbian lawyer. Thank you especially to the current partners Penny Scott and Nicky Mein, and to all my wonderful colleagues at Cartridges Law since 1997.
For all these reasons and more, all our staff and clients walk in to our high street reception during Exeter Pride week beneath the giant rainbow flags which are hoisted annually above our offices. Our presence at Exeter Pride holds us up as a firm in all these ways, and reminds us and our community of the firm's track record promoting equality and inclusion since 1973. By our annual involvement in Pride, our small firm is able to express huge solidarity and our warm appreciation of a longstanding relationship with the LGBT+ community in the South West and far beyond.
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.
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