Weekly take: Why Pride is both a protest and celebration
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Weekly take: Why Pride is both a protest and celebration

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To mark Pride month, Darren Smyth, cochair of IP Out, says the legal profession must not forget that some members still face exclusion and hostility

Each year at about this time, there develops a discourse as to whether Pride is, or should be, a protest (as the early Pride marches were), or a celebration (as they came to be in the 1990s and early 2000s largely).

The change of atmosphere towards celebration reflects the great improvements in equality for LGBTQ+ people in this country during that time. Accordingly, we see Pride sponsored by, and having large contingents marching from, major law firms, quite rightly promoting their status as LGBTQ+ friendly workplaces.

The legal regulators usually have a bus in the Pride in London march (I have sometimes sought refuge in it and received a very warm welcome).

On the other hand, the Legal Pride group, including the Law Society and other legal groups (and sometimes joined by IP Out members), marches with a banner proclaiming “Fighting for equality under the rule of law”, reflecting that full equality has not been achieved. They recognise that the “fight” for full equality is not concluded in this country.

At a recent IP Out event, we heard from Switchboard LGBTQIA+, the helpline that is celebrating this year its 50th anniversary.

We heard that callers still reflect experiences of homophobia and difficulties in coming out to family. And the number of calls they receive seeking to discuss issues with gender identity is increasing. The experiences of our members reflect that the IP legal community is generally very inclusive. But that is not the case everywhere in wider UK society. The need for Switchboard is as urgent as ever.

Looking further afield, we are aware of many countries that are passing more draconian laws criminalising gay relationships, and refugees from those countries often experience hostile and disbelieving attitudes from UK officials.

At another recent IP Out event, we heard from a priest for the LGBTQ+ inclusive Metropolitan Community Church that many of their congregations are receiving an increasing number of refugees from LGBTQ+ hostile countries who are seeking a safe place to worship. Worldwide events affect the reality in the UK as well.

Closer to home, we were saddened to learn of the resignation of the first trans judge at the England and Wales High Court, who reportedly stated: “I have reached the conclusion that in 2024 the national situation and present judicial framework is no longer such that it is possible in a dignified way to be both ‘trans’ and a salaried, fairly prominent judge in the UK”. This visibility had been important to our members, and we are concerned that inclusivity in the legal environment seems to be worsening rather than improving in some areas.

That is not to say of course that there have not been huge improvements in the experiences and prospects of LGBTQ+ people in the UK since the first Pride march in London in 1972.

This year, IP Out was fortunate to be addressed by Michael Cashman. He engagingly and wittily took us through his life as a writer and actor, including the infamous – and in retrospect astonishingly brief and innocent – kiss on [British soap opera] Eastenders in 1989, a politician (he was a Labour Member of the European Parliament for 15 years and is now sitting in the House of Lords), and activist – including being one of the founding members of LGBT rights organisation Stonewall.

He bears witness to the astonishing improvements that have been secured in only a few decades. His autobiography ‘One of Them – From Albert Square to Parliament Square’ is an extraordinary – and at times quite painful to read – account of how much has changed. If Pride is a celebration, there is certainly plenty to celebrate.

So is Pride a celebration or a protest?

Perhaps unsurprisingly the conclusion has to be both. We celebrate and acknowledge what our community has gained. Before IP Out started in 2016 most of us would have struggled to name more than one or two other LGBTQ+ people in the profession. Now, we have a thriving and vibrant community that meets regularly.

But we must not lose sight of the fact that some of us still face exclusion and hostility, which for some of us is increasing rather than moving towards increased acceptance. There is some way to go before we all have, as Legal Pride proclaims, “Equality under the law”.

Darren Smyth is a co-chair of IP Out and a partner at EIP, where he is convenor of the EIPride group. IP Out, which is part of IP Inclusive, is a networking group for LGBT people and 'allies' working in the IP profession.

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