My Pride Story: Some people still think because I’m gay I’m a ‘soft litigator’
30 Jun 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...
Sascha Kuhn is international head of data privacy and a litigation partner at Simmons & Simmons in Germany...
"At the very moment that I am writing these lines sitting on a train from Düsseldorf to Frankfurt, where I will be giving a presentation on the interplay between data privacy and anti-money laundering compliance, things are shifting… Chancellor Merkel, whose Christian Democrats have been blocking a vote on the introduction of same-sex marriage in Germany for many years, stated on Monday that there should be an open vote in parliament*.
As this is the last week of parliamentary session prior to the summer break, there have been suggestions that this vote will finally be taken before the end of the week (as the opposition’s draft legislation has been tabled 30 times in the last four years alone, a finalised draft is at hand that could be voted on immediately). Will my civil partnership thus finally turn into full-fledged marriage in the weeks to come? We shall see.
Regardless of whether marriage will become open to all in the days to come or in the months thereafter, Pride will continue to be important for the LGBTI community, both in Germany and abroad. From my perspective, being LGBTI in Germany is still not regarded as “normal” in the business community, and in too many societies being LGBTI is not just frowned upon but puts people in real danger.
As a compliance and disputes partner at Simmons & Simmons in Germany, the very same firm in which I did my traineeship, I have always been happy to be working in a supportive environment that has traditionally been open to its LGBTI staff. Whilst the number of out LGBTI persons in our German offices is quite small, we have a very strong and active group of Straight Allies. Strength comes in numbers, and having this network is extremely important to me. What is also important to me is that we have been present at Sticks & Stones, the most important LGBTI job fair in Europe, for many years now (back when it was still called MILK, we were the first international firm to participate in it). Today, our openness to LGBTI applicants and our wider approach to diversity form an important part of our recruitment efforts.
I will not lie to you: of course, there have been challenges. People who found it difficult to congratulate me when I married or, to be legally correct, entered into a registered partnership with my husband Andreas, who is a successful IP lawyer in a boutique firm. Persons who automatically think that my being gay means that I am a “soft litigator”. And those who, in many cases, will ask me about my private life sooner or later and, with almost no exception, assume that I am heterosexual, so I still have the experience of ‘coming out’ on a regular basis. On the other hand, none of this has ever hindered me in pursuing my career path, from a trainee to an associate, to a partner, to the International Head of Data Privacy at Simmons & Simmons.
An important part of being successful has been seeking allies – not just in the firm, but also outside. There are numerous LGBTI lawyers in other firms and in our clients’ organisations. Networking with them is as important as networking within the firm’s networks.
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” has always been one of my favourite mottos. So when asked for advice or conclusions with the benefit of hindsight I offer a fairly simple approach: whether you are a law student, an associate or a partner, be who you are, be visible and be proud of it!"
Also published in The Lawyer 30 June 2017
*On 30 June, the German parliament passed a marriage bill to open marriage to same-sex couples in Germany.