This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first Pride march in the UK. To mark Pride Month, we asked Gareth Jones, an associate in our reputation management and privacy team, and the chair of the firm’s LGBTQIA+ Committee, what Pride means to him, and how the firm has celebrated Pride Month.
Sitting down to respond to this question, and attempting to articulate what ‘Pride’ means to me, in any kind of concise and coherent way, has been far more difficult than I had originally anticipated. If one starts with a dictionary definition of ‘Pride’, one is met with “a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction that you get because you or people connected with you have done or got something good” and “to feel very pleased about something or someone you are closely connected with”. Both of those definitions speak to the importance of ‘Pride’ and Pride Month, and in coming together as community of both those who identify as LGBTQIA+, and allies. However, the definition that most resonates with me, is “your feelings of your own worth and respect for yourself” – this really strikes at the heart of what ‘Pride’ means to me.
As a member of the LGBTQIA+ Community, having ‘Pride’ in your own identity and feeling like you belong can be a rather long and difficult road to navigate. While we in the UK might largely live in a society where we can live openly and freely, we mustn’t forget that those freedoms were brought about by hundreds of others before us who paved a way to a more progressive future. For me, ‘Pride’ and Pride Month embody a time for both celebration and reflection - a time to celebrate the progress that has been made and to take pride in our identities, but also a time to reflect on the journey to get to this point. We must, of course, also reflect on what further action needs to be taken to ensure that all LGBTQIA+ people are able to fully be their authentic selves.
To be able to live openly and freely as your authentic self, for many people, simply isn’t a concern that needs to be overcome – however, for some LGBTQIA+ people, it can feel like an insurmountable hurdle. For me, ‘Pride’ and Pride Month is therefore also a time to ensure LGBTQIA+ voices are heard and visibility is given to the issues faced by the community. I reflect on my own experience as being an LGBTQIA+ person working in the law – I am very fortunate to work in a firm and with people amongst whom I am unquestionably able to be my authentic self, without self-moderation or fear of any negative repercussions. That, frankly, isn’t an experience enjoyed by everyone in the wider LGBTQIA+ community. Therefore, diversity and visibility within the legal profession are particularly important to me. The Law Society, together with the LGBT+ Lawyers Division, launched a survey in 2021 to update their insights on LGBT+ equality in the legal profession and capture the experiences of LGBT+ Lawyers. Their report found, for example, that of those surveyed, over one-third (37%) of respondents said that they had experienced homophobia, biphobia or transphobia in their workplace. A pressing issue that was also highlighted in the report was a lack of LGBT+ role models at work. The profession as a whole needs to attract talent from all minorities and underrepresented groups, and I see ‘Pride’ and Pride Month as an opportunity to promote visibility within the profession – we have a collective responsibility (both as members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies) to foster a safe environment for all LGBTQIA+ people. I hope my role as an advocate for inclusion will help better the experience of others.
Penningtons Manches Cooper’s LGBTQIA+ Committee aims to improve pathways for our LGBTQIA+ employees, clients, contractors and visitors, and to become role models and thought leaders who work to encourage more LGBTQIA+ people to be their authentic selves at work, in society, and when accessing legal services.
I have taken an active role in the Committee since joining the London office as a trainee solicitor in 2018. I took over as chair of the Committee in November 2021. The Committee is made up of a fantastic group of engaged and committed people from across the firm and one of the things that I enjoy most about chairing the Committee is being able to come together and discuss and share ideas – not only just about LGBTQIA+ issues through a Penningtons Manches Cooper lens, but also about issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ community more widely.
We started off our Pride Month celebrations by providing some internal educational awareness about what Pride Month is, why it is celebrated, and how staff and partners at the firm can get involved. Increasing awareness around the LGBTQIA+ community is important during the month of June, however we also want to make sure that we’re carrying this messaging on throughout the year in our daily lives. The Committee shared a number of great resources for staff and partners to engage with – including, for example, helpful resources on how to be a proactive ally.
The Committee also hosted an ‘Equali-tea’ event in our London office – staff and partners’ baking skills were put to the test and all were invited to celebrate Pride Month over a cake and a cup of tea with colleagues. We also hosted an interactive quiz testing colleagues’ knowledge of LGBTQIA+ history and all things Pride.
We are also very happy to support this month’s book club, which will focus on ‘Under the Udala Trees’ by Chinelo Okparanta. The book follows the story of Ijeoma, a girl growing up in war-torn Nigeria who must come terms to term with her sexuality and the conflict it presents in society, and a great choice for Pride Month.
It has been fantastic to see colleagues from across the firm come together to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community, its history and to celebrate Pride Month. On behalf of the LGBTQIA+ Committee, we look forward to progressing the firm’s work on these important issues.
Penningtons Manches Cooper believes that a diverse workforce generates vitality for our firm and we are happy to support Pride Month. We are committed to building an inclusive culture across the firm and creating an environment in which everyone can thrive and be their true selves. You can find more about the firm’s diversity and inclusion initiatives here: https://www.penningtonslaw.com/careers/diversity-and-inclusion