- My LS
This year, we’re celebrating Pride again virtually under the theme of 'Untold Pride' alongside the Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).
We’ve asked members of the profession to tell their stories, especially those that are less discussed, highlighted and accepted, to acknowledge and appreciate the diverse identities and experiences that exist within the LGBT+ community – allowing it to be as colourful as the flag that represents it.
Terri Li, an employment and discrimination graduate paralegal, shares her journey of accepting her identity, overcoming discrimination and proudly being who she is.
I am a 27-year old bi-racial woman, who also identifies as pansexual. I grew up in working class Bradford with my mum’s White British side of the family.
My father was a first-generation Ghanaian immigrant in Great Britain which places me within the 1.2% of the population of Great Britain that identifies as mixed race.
To the world at large, I was Black. I experienced discrimination in the same way as my Black peers yet, to my Black friends and family I wasn’t quite Black enough; quite literally placing me in the grey area of race identity.
Discrimination based on my race was given to me as a birth right, sometimes even from my own family, and I had to accept from a very young age that nothing I could do would ever place me at the same level of acceptance as my White peers.
Naturally, this provided the unique challenge of not quite knowing where I “belonged”, and I did everything I could to fit in with those around me.
Knowing that there was simply too much work to be done to fit in already, I supressed my sexuality for as long as I could. However, walking into the chapter of adulthood presented me with an opportunity to decide where I would go next and who I would be. Like many, I had grown tired of hiding parts of who I truly was.
I am proud to say that this summer I will celebrate my one-year wedding anniversary with my wife on Pride weekend, and that both sides of my family support my marriage. I am very fortunate that coming out didn’t further ostracise me and in fact the confidence living my authentic life gave me, allowed me to develop my relationship with myself and others.
My intersectional identity felt limiting for many years but, as I grow and learn, I embrace all parts of myself and feel proud that these are the things that make me unique. They taught me resilience, perseverance and ultimately confidence.
I hope that to the young, bi-racial, queer people of the country, I can one day show them that they are accepted for all parts of their identity and that there is space for them in all settings.
There are many resources available to those who are seeking to understand elements of their identity in more depth.
Having ventured on my own journey of self-acceptance and understanding, my advice to others would be to look for safe spaces in network groups within your firms and the Law Society.
I hope that our next generation of lawyers know that it is possible to live with all aspects of your intricate, unique intersectional identity proudly.
Morgan Wolfe, commercial disputes solicitor with Astraea Group and a member of our Women Lawyers Division, shares her story of parenting, acceptance and love.
“this has taken me a long time to feel comfortable saying but i’m trans and go by he/they pronouns. please call me [J]. i understand it may take a while to get used to but i’d appreciate it if you made an effort. ty :)”
This is the message our 12-year-old posted on a family WhatsApp group earlier this year.
He had previously come out to their year six class - also via WhatsApp - and to a very small number of family and friends. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Parents messaged to tell us what an “amazing thing” J had done.
J’s secondary school made sure their preferred name was on the system, school forms and lanyard. J has not formally come out to their year 7 peers, their view being that if anyone asks, they will happily tell them. They feel no compulsion to hide, nor to voluntarily offer.
I am often asked if I think J’s identification as trans is a phase. I cannot help but feel that the question is intended to comfort me. As in, don’t worry – this too shall pass. I bristle slightly as I detect an implication, however unconscious or benign, of minimising or negating a fundamental facet of my child’s identity.
If his identification should change today, tomorrow or in 20 years’ time, does that make it any less real? I cannot speak for J’s identity and any efforts to do so will be inadequate. I take J at his word.
J’s WhatsApp message foresees and acknowledges the difficulty in adapting to change. I took to the name change more quickly than the pronouns.
Erring on the side of caution, I found myself referring to the dog, and even some inanimate objects as “they or them”. Even I still slip up, each time with apologies. J is endlessly forgiving, patiently but firmly correcting me when I mis-gender them, as a I recently did to the cashier at Sports Direct.
J bubbles with excitement when a stranger refers to them as “young man” or “he”. I know how important this is to him and feel joy in their joy.
This may not have been possible without a chest binder, a topic which J thoroughly researched and briefed me on. Their first binder, from Spectrum Outfitters, was a game changer. I am incredibly grateful for this simple item which has had such a profound and positive impact on J’s confidence.
One challenge for me is people who, despite being aware of J’s preferences, repeatedly use their deadname. With certain of these people, and for reasons I will not go into, J has chosen not to correct them. When I ask J about this, they say they “don’t really mind”.
Mulling this over, I realise what is true is that I mind. A lot. Like the reference to a phase, it feels J’s identity is being denied and it pains me.
I ask J if it would be ok for me to speak to these people, gently and kindly, about how I feel and to say how much it would mean to me, personally, if they would try to use their name. J says yes.
Every day I am struck anew by J’s strength of character, iron-rooted sense of self and nuanced understanding of this imperfect world.
Long may it last.
Joe White (they/them) is a non-binary queer solicitor at the Government Legal Department. They share their story of discovery.
I’ve only recently begun my legal career, but I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to be my authentic self and visibly queer. Returning to the closet, or tempering myself, was not an option.
When I was a teenager, it was “negotiated” that I no longer live at home because of my sexuality and I found myself isolated in rural Shropshire – a place where the only LGBT+ visibility was in the media or on TV.
I founded the first LGBT+ youth group in the county because I knew I could not be the only gay in the village. I was unashamedly queer at school and in public. It was not always easy but I was stubborn to be me, unashamedly proud of who I am.
The community I was embraced by in Manchester’s Village reminded me of my goals whenever times were hard, and made me believe in myself as much as they believed in me.
My experiences have made me a “campaigner” from a relatively young age, but that was only enabled due to the shoulders we all stand upon – the Marsha Johnsons, the Alan Turings, the Audre Lordes and the Harvey Milks of this world.
We now carry the torch of equality. All of our interactions and acts of visibility send the message that we do exist, and we are not going to shy away from our truth. We will stand up for equality and against hate.
It is still not always easy to be stubborn or be unashamedly proud of who I am, especially when trans and gender diverse people are facing a barrage of abuse in the media and online or from within our community.
Allyship and solidarity cannot be performative, it has to be proactive – putting pronouns on emails is great, but if you ignore the pronouns on emails you receive and misgender someone without apology you are not an ally.
If there is a day that my pronouns at work or in my social life are used without mistake, I am both thrilled and surprised – that should not be the case.
We will all make mistakes. Own them. Correct them. Educate yourself. Like the law, society needs to, and does, evolve.
Pride, and solidarity, is not a month-long waving of a rainbow flag. It is a daily commitment to make society more equitable and equal through your actions – to uplift, to encourage and to support.
Will you make that commitment with me?
In this podcast, the last story in our series for Untold Pride, Ewan Watson and Jonathan Wheeler, members of our LGBT+ committee, are joined by Liam Langlois.
They discuss Liam’s story of exploration and his work with Queer Lawyers of Tomorrow.
Liam Langlois is a final year law student, soon to be graduating from Queen Mary University.
Liam is the co-chair of the student-led network Queer Lawyers of Tomorrow which aims at enhancing visibility and support for future queer students entering the profession.
Liam is trans, and his personal journey of transitioning at university and navigating a neurodiverse condition continue to strengthen his interest to push towards and intersectional approach to D&I beyond Pride month.
Jonathan Wheeler is a founding member of the Law Society’s LGBT+ Division Committee and a Stonewall ambassador. In his day job, he is the managing partner of London firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, representing clients with high value and complex injury claims.
He recently co-authored the latest edition of Lexis Nexis’ Guide to Child Abuse Compensation Claims (published December 2020) and is a former president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.
He lives in Greenwich with partner John and Clemi the dog.
Ewan Watson is a member of the Law Society’s LGBT+ Committee. He works as a solicitor in the in-house legal team at Warner Bros, specialising in TV licensing and distribution.
Ewan lives with his husband in North London.