As Pride comes to Broadgate and we support the Rainbow Ribbon Campaign across the neighbourhood, Tom Henderson, Senior Associate at law firm Herbert Smith Freehills explains why it's so important that to support LGBTQ+ people in business and across the world.
"Before joining Herbert Smith Freehills LLP (HSF) in London, I trained at a law firm in Newcastle. While the firm was very open-minded, at that stage in my life, I just wasn’t ready to be totally open about my sexuality in the workplace. I was ‘out’ to close friends (and family) but the prospect of making a broader declaration to my colleagues filled me with dread.
Joining the litigation team at HSF and moving to London was a fresh start. I was (a little) older and more comfortable in my skin and had decided on moving that I would be open about my sexuality from the outset. HSF couldn’t have been more welcoming. I came across a number of LGBTQ+ identifying partners and senior colleagues very quickly and felt able to introduce people to my boyfriend without qualms. We have a very active employee network, with our annual summer party at the National Portrait Gallery being a real highlight for employees and our clients. Not once has my sexuality been an issue for me in the workplace.
HSF also practises what it preaches by actively supporting a number of LGBTQ+ initiatives on a pro-bono basis. In the last couple of years, I, along with my colleagues John Whiteoak and Thomas Jennings, have been lucky enough to advise the Human Dignity Trust to help challenge anti-gay laws across the world. Laws which actively criminalise private and consensual sexual activity between LGBTQ+ people continue to exist across the globe. Seventy-two countries criminalise same-sex relationships (and in 45 the law is applied to women as well as men). This includes a British legacy of anti-gay colonial-era legislation across the Commonwealth. It is our responsibility to do what we can to help overhaul this outdated legislation.
The Human Dignity Trust works closely with local activists and their lawyers to uphold international human rights law, often by way of test case litigation. While legal expertise already exists in most, if not all, of the jurisdictions where challenges will occur, the means to bring the litigation may not be available. HSF is able to bring legal and financial resources that others may not have access to.
I’ve been fortunate to travel to a number of affected countries with the Human Dignity Trust and hearing about the work of local activists is inspirational. I was also able to organise an event at the firm at which Caleb Orozco, a Belizian LGBTQ+ activist, gave a talk on his incredible experience as chief litigant in a case successfully challenging the anti-sodomy laws of Belize. As we celebrate pride in the UK, it is extremely important to acknowledge the challenges faced by communities around the world which continue to be subject to abhorrent anti-LGBTQ+ laws."
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