To mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), David Bufton, Knowledge Lawyer, and Chris Edwards, CSR & Diversity Director discuss the importance of IDAHOBIT and explore what the firm is doing to promote LGBT+ inclusion.
What is IDAHOBIT Day?
David: Every year on 17 May, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) is marked worldwide to raise awareness of, and catalyse efforts against, oppression and discrimination. It was in May 1990 that homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organisation's Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, and only May 2019 when being trans was removed as a mental disorder from its global manual of diagnoses.
Why is it important?
David: Oppression takes many forms. While, in the UK, we have made considerable progress in some areas, there remain considerable hurdles to anything approaching equality. Outside of the UK, the situation can be much worse. For example:
71 jurisdictions criminalise same-sex activity – almost half of them are commonwealth jurisdictions. 11 of those impose the death penalty (Human Dignity Trust).
15 jurisdictions criminalise the gender identity and/or expression of trans people. Many more jurisdictions target trans people through other offences, such as public order offences (Human Dignity Trust).
Looking at the UK, in a recent government survey, more than two thirds of LGBT respondents said they avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner for fear of a negative reaction, and in the preceding 12 months 24% of respondents had accessed mental health services and at least 40% had experienced an incident such as verbal harassment or physical violence because they were LGBT. After years of delay, we are still waiting for so-called "conversion therapy" – i.e. treatment to "cure" people of their sexual orientation or suppress their gender identity - to be banned in this country.
These statistics do not surprise me. I have been with my partner for ten years (married for four) and I not only think twice about holding his hand in public, but rarely do it unless surrounded by friends or family. I have been the subject of homophobic verbal harassment while out walking with a friend. I research and think carefully before going abroad, to make sure I will be safe, and that my husband will have recognised next-of-kin rights should something happen to me. I am also aware that my experiences pale in comparison to what others within the LGBTQ+ community face, for example trans people and ethnic minority LGBTQ+ people.
Thinking further afield, I have had the privilege of acting for LGBTQ+ asylum applicants who are not thinking of holding hands or next-of-kin rights, but are fleeing imprisonment by their state of origin or death threats from their family or community.
IDAHOBIT Day plays an important role in both raising awareness of the considerable discrimination that still exists around the world and the consequences that discrimination has on individuals, but also what we can all do to help.
What does Travers Smith do to promote LGBT+ inclusion?
Chris: The firm has an extensive range of initiatives aimed at promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion, both in the UK and overseas. Below are some examples:
Colours Cayman is a non-profit organisation that advocates for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual community within the Cayman Islands. Via our Dispute Resolution practice, we have provided pro bono advice regarding its application to intervene in an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The appeal concerns the right of same-sex couples to marry, or enter into an equivalent legal framework (such as civil union), under the Constitution of the Cayman Islands.
GiveOut is a UK-based charity working to support the global struggle for LGBTQI human rights, ensuring that activists and their organisations have more of the resources they need to defend their communities and campaign for equality. We have worked with the charity to help set up an LGBTQI Legal Fund, which will provide grants to support LGBTQI organisations around the world using the law and courts to advance equality, including in those places where same-sex relations and trans identities are criminalised.
Refugees at Home
Travers Smith has been at the heart of Refugees at Home (RaH) since before their formal inception in 2015, effectively acting as their in-house counsel and regularly advising them on both key strategic issues and a wide range of day-to-day queries. Refugees at Home is a UK charity which connects those with a spare room in their home to vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, including LGBTQ+ people fleeing persecution. Daniel Gerring, the firm's Head of Pensions and Senior LGBTQ+ Champion and also Trustee of RaH, recently spoke with refugee Faraj Alnasser about his experiences.
You can read more about our work in this area on our website.
What can allies do to support the LGBTQ+ community?
Chris: Allies have a critical role to play in helping LGBTQ+ people to thrive and be their authentic selves. Below are some tips on what our straight allies might want to do to help promote LGBTQ+ inclusion:
Educate yourself and stay informed
Follow LGBTQ+ topics in the news to keep up to date on the current issues for the LGBTQ+ community. Read blog posts and news articles written by LGBTQ+ people, follow LGBTQ+ people on social media and consume content created by LGBTQ+ people. Be aware that language evolves and be open to new concepts and ideas. Look up words you are unfamiliar with. The Stonewall glossary of terms is a great place to start. Learn about pronouns, what they are, why they matter and how you can be an ally by introducing yourself with your pronouns.
Be visible in your support
The firm's LGBTQ+ network, welcomes allies to become network members. By attending network events and talking about LGBTQ+ news in a positive way, you can show those around you that you're an ally. If you are visibly showing your support and having conversations about LGBTQ+ inclusion, this will create an environment where more people feel safe and comfortable to be themselves and out at work.
Not everyone you meet is straight and/or cisgender. Avoid using gendered language where these assumptions are implied, e.g. instead of asking someone about their girlfriend/boyfriend or husband/wife, ask about their partner.
Support LGBTQ+ charities
A good way to find out more is to engage with LGBTQ+ charities. If you follow their updates and activities, you can easily find out about opportunities to volunteer or take action, for example by writing to your MP or engaging with schools about certain issues.
Uplift the most marginalised voices in the community
Remember that to be an ally to LGBTQ+ people, you must be an ally to all LGBTQ+ people: this includes LGBTQ+ people of colour, trans and non-binary people, and disabled LGBTQ+ people, whose voices are not heard as often. Consider whether you are making room for these voices when you are thinking about LGBTQ+ inclusion.