My Pride Story: Knowing that support is available can make a big difference to LGBT lawyers

07 Jul 2017

During Pride Festival we hear from members of our international LGBT network on their experience of identifying as LGBT in the legal industry and what challenges they have overcome along the way...

Cameron Roper is Of Counsel at Simmons & Simmons based in London. Cameron specialises in funds finance, general lending and advisory work...

"I started my legal career over a decade ago in Perth, Australia. While many people regard Australia as a tolerant, easy-going place, it can actually be quite conservative – just look at our inability to achieve marriage equality. There’s sort of a feeling that people should just get on with things, so while your average person on the street will claim they don’t care if you’re LGBT, many would prefer that you didn’t talk about it. Joining a law firm as a 21 year old, I felt that people in the legal profession were generally a bit more enlightened than that, and I never experienced any situations where I felt like I was being discriminated against. At the same time, I wasn’t actively out to people in the firm, other than a few close work friends. With most people, I was aware that they knew I was gay, and I didn’t go to lengths to hide my sexuality, but that pervading sense of “just getting on with things” meant that I never really felt comfortable to share that aspect of my life.

Things have been quite different since I moved to London, initially on a secondment to the same firm I worked at in Australia. While the Australian offices were still in the process of setting up a LGBT network (there had not been one for the 10 years or so I had worked there), the London office was a bit further along in the process and had already established (and invested resources in) its LGBT network. As I already knew some of the associates in my team, everyone knew I was gay before I arrived and there was never any feeling that I should hold back that part of my life. I just slotted in as a regular team member who happened to be gay, and I never felt any judgment or discrimination. Having the LGBT network was also great because it was a constant, visible reminder that there were lots of other LGBT people at the firm and that the partners and management were committed to equality and diversity.

I joined Simmons & Simmons at the start of the year and one of the first emails I received from management was an announcement that the firm had ranked as one of the eight best performing employers in Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers 2017. It was also encouraging to see posters by the lifts highlighting the firm’s LGBT network, and a clear place on the intranet letting people know how they could get involved. I contacted the partner responsible for the firm’s LGBT network and he took the time to have a coffee with me and welcome me to the firm. I would definitely encourage other people who work in the legal profession to sign up to their firm’s LGBT network and get involved wherever possible.

In hindsight, I feel a bit silly for not being more open when I first joined the legal profession. I got to know a lot of my colleagues really well and I’m sure they wouldn’t have had any issues with me being gay. That being said, I think that the lack of institutional support (through a LGBT network or otherwise) was a barrier to me coming out, and I’m glad to see that most firms in London are much more developed in this respect. Just knowing that support is available can make a big difference to LGBT lawyers. For me, it’s really great to know that I don’t have to hide who I am to be valued."

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