Out to lunch – reflections on trying to be an LGBTQ+ ally at work

In this article for LGBT+ History Month, Morgan Wolfe, solicitor with Astraea Group and a member of our Women Lawyers Division, discusses allyship.

An acquaintance once told me there was no reason for his law firm to take part in Pride as none of his colleagues were gay.

If this were factually correct, I thought, it meant that his firm of some 200 employees only recruited straight people; or gay people didn't apply; or gay people applied but were not hired.

Knowing the firm in question, these explanations seemed as unlikely as they were unsatisfactory.

This story (inspired by true events) hints at the complexity around the topic of being 'out' at work.

It's perhaps therefore a fitting introduction to this article, which I was invited to write, about my personal efforts as a straight, white, cisgender woman lawyer to support queer colleagues and be an ally in the fight for LGBTQ+ diversity, equity and inclusion.

What I told my acquaintance, and what I believed to be true, was that he almost certainly did have gay colleagues but that he did not know, or was not aware, that they were gay. It then occurred to me that I too probably had queer colleagues that I could not see. But why could we not see them?

Everyone should have the freedom to identify as they choose, at work and in every other sphere of life. But for LGBTQ+ colleagues in the traditionally conservative realm of an English law firm, the gap between the theory and practice of that freedom may be precariously wide.

After that conversation with the acquaintance, I felt a pressing need to do more to narrow the gap.

I started wearing a rainbow pin on my lapel and rainbow laces on my commuter shoes. When someone at work commented on either, I told them that I was wearing them in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

I forwarded to all staff emails from InterLaw Diversity Forum and LAGLA about upcoming events and then invited colleagues to attend with me. I applied to join the LGBT+ Lawyers Division steering committee, as an ally, and rallied my firm to participate in Pride.

I will never know if these small acts of allyship actually strengthened support for LGBTQ+ colleagues. But that has never struck me as a good enough reason to stop trying.

You might ask whether more allies are needed, particularly as so many law firms have really stepped up in recent years. Fifteen of them (including the one that gave me the rainbow laces) featured in Stonewall’s top 100 most LGBT inclusive employers for 2020 and while this is undeniably inspiring, it's far from the norm.

In short, there’s plenty more to be done and plenty of room for allies to help do it.

To know how to be a good ally to the LGBTQ+ community, you only need to ask members of that community for advice. Listen and allow yourself to be guided. Then use your power and privilege to go and make some noise.

Resources

Survey: share your experiences as LGBT+ lawyers and allies in the workplace

Inclusion allies resource

LGBT+ History Month: inspiration through the ages

An introduction to asexuality

Coming out: my journey as a junior lawyer

The intersectionality between faith and the LGBT+ community

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