When I was asked to write some words on what Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance meant to me, I struggled a little as these events did not exist when I was a young and out trans woman in the 90s.
I transitioned for the first time in the 90s when getting a training contract for a visible trans woman was an unrealistic challenge (though I tried). This experience pushed me back into the closet as I felt that the legal profession was not ready for visible trans/non-binary solicitors. I did eventually apply for a role at the College of Law (in male expression), because I had seen LGB lecturing staff when I studied for my solicitors exams there and thought maybe I could later transition in a sympathetic environment (which I later happily did with no trauma!). This was at a time before many trans legal protections were in place.
Today, the trans/non-binary community are looking for signs that law firms are trans-inclusive for both their employees and their clients. Many firms are doing great work and I am seeing more solicitors and legal staff being able to express their gender identity in the workplace.
However, with 2% of solicitors identifying as trans/non-binary, we are still not seeing the visibility that we would hope for in the profession. Adopting inclusive messaging, like many of your clients already and successfully have, is a great way to promote visibility and inclusivity. I advocate that if you get these messages right, you will get more clients.
Firms can show trans-inclusion in simple ways, for example,
- Looking at removing gender from your application processes (and forms)
- Drafting vibrant trans & non-binary inclusion policies
- Inviting trans/non-binary speakers (remember to use trans/non-binary people working in the legal profession) to attend your intersectional events
- By telling people about your inclusion message on your website or social media channels (my community are great researchers and we will look)
- Train your employees!
I think that is why International Transgender Day of Visibility in March and the comparatively new Transgender Awareness Week in November are great ways for firms to hold events to discuss and learn about gender identity and expression. Though I would encourage you to hold events any time, instead of just these two periods. As mentioned, these dates did not exist when I was first out; had they been, I maybe would have felt more hopeful about applying to law firms, especially if they were holding events over these periods and at other times.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is a different date for me personally; this is a day that I remember the friends I lost in the late 80s and 90s. I have lost friends to AIDS, prostitution, drug overdoses and in one case, they just disappeared forever. This sadly was the world back in the 80s and 90s for so many in the community. Organisations holding events should note that for older members of the trans community, this is a day for remembrance not a celebration.
I often get asked “what can I do on personal level?”. Well, in my workshops I try to turn all delegates into trans/non-binary allies. Being an ally is not a passive activity, it is very much a high energy role and we really do need allies right now. Since 2015, the UK has gone backwards in regard to trans/non-binary inclusion so we cannot afford to remove our foot from the gas.
I ask allies
- to learn about the community (Google is great!).
- to be advocates when out with friends and at the school gates etc.
- to stamp out transphobic conversations. Occasionally, I have been so flabbergasted by what people say in front of me, that an ally has had to step in (checking with me first if it is ok to do so) and shut the conversation down.
- to listen to a trans/non-binary colleague when they are having a bad day, their life outside work may not be going well, so giving them you ear may just save their life.
- not to believe all the transphobic articles in the UK media (ask why are they saying this? It sells newspapers!).
- to use our names and pronouns (you can respectfully ask but give yours).
- to keep our gender identity history private if we share it with you (it is not for you to share).
Remember being an ally does not stop at the office door, you are always an ally. It is ok to make mistakes as long as you are not doing it on purpose, and you are learning. In my legal career I have been victim of three major transphobic events but I do feel that these probably would not happen today. In my view the legal profession is one of the leading sectors in the UK for trans/nonbinary inclusion although we still have much more to do.
Please do celebrate Transgender Awareness Week but please do take care to note that Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day to remember and hold dear our fallen.
Rachel Reese is vice chair of our LGBT+ Lawyers Division Committee and CEO of Global Butterflies, a trans & non-binary training company.