This article opens with an ughh. That eye-rolling moment that the average 2SLGBTQI person encounters fourteen thousand times (approximately) over the course of a life that’s otherwise out and proud.
Someone makes an assumption about who we are (or who we’re dating or who we’re married to) that forces us into a kind of split-second calculus. How much of myself do I feel like sharing here? Will the temperature in the room/elevator/zoom call change if I correct that assumption? Even if I do it as casually as possible? Am I putting myself at risk? Or just risking an awkward moment?
The first meeting with a lawyer must absolutely not be one of those fourteen thousand times.
The client-lawyer relationship is based on trust. But what happens when your clients can’t be entirely honest (or entirely themselves) when they need council? Fear of discrimination keeps too many 2SLGBTQI Canadians from getting the council they need.
Consider these numbers. Last year, 259 hate crimes targeting sexual orientation were reported in Canada, the second most since 2009, when these statistics were first collected. Nearly six in ten of those crimes were violent1. And according to a 2017 survey, 40% of 2SLGBTQI Canadians have been victims of discrimination.2
A MILLION REASONS TO BE AN ALLY
There are approximately one million 2SLGBTQI Canadians, accounting for 4% of the population aged 15 and older in 2018.3
Applying that same ratio to the legal community, we can assume that approximately 5,400 of Canada’s 136,000 lawyers identify as 2SLGBTQI. In fact, those numbers roughly bear out, according to recent surveys of practicing lawyers in BC4, Ontario5 and Quebec.6
SO, HOW CAN YOU BE AN ALLY TO YOUR 2SLGBTQI CLIENTS AND COLLEAGUES?
A good first step is to understand the nuances between a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and assigned sex.
Sexual orientation refers to one’s “emotional or sexual attraction”7 to someone else. Heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual are all examples of sexual orientation, while the term transgender refers not to sexual orientation, but to one’s gender identity or expression.
Gender identity is a person’s “internal and individual experience of gender. It’s not necessarily visible to others and may or may not align with what society expects based on assigned sex.”8
Gender expression is “the way gender is presented and communicated to the world through clothing, speech, body language, hairstyle, voice, and/or the emphasis or deemphasis of body characteristics and behaviours.” 8
Assigned sex is the “biological classification of a person as female, male, or intersex. It is usually assigned at birth, based on visual assessment of external anatomy.”8
Take several small, decisive steps toward a more inclusive workplace.
For starters, never assume someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation. (See: “Ughh,” above). Instead, take the time to ask new clients if they’d like to specify their gender identity or sexual orientation. It’s also important to remember never to assume someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation is at the center of their legal request, while also keeping in mind that these factors could always influence their situation. Take a holistic approach to understanding and supporting your client.
Think of allyship as a verb. It’s active and ongoing and – importantly – not something you get to claim for yourself.
Egale Canada offers excellent tips on how to do the work of standing up for marginalized groups. (Read: “Tips on how to practice 2SLGBTQI allyship”).
And for the legally-inclined reader (AKA: you), the website of the Government of Canada has detailed information about the legal rights of LGBTI persons under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The website includes links to all the provincial and territorial legislation that name sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination.
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Sources: 1. Statistics Canada, “Police-reported hate crime, 2020.” Published in March 2022. 2. Jasmin Roy « Réalités LGBT » survey of 2,697 Canadians. Conducted in June 2017. 3. Statistics Canada, “A statistical portrait of Canada’s diverse LGTQ2+ communities.” Published in June 2021. 4. Law Society of British Columbia, “Demographics of the legal profession,” 2019. 5. Lawyer Annual Report (LAR), “Statistical snapshot of lawyers in Ontario,” 2016. 6. Barreau du Québec « Rapport annuel 2020-2021. » 7. Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse: Your Obligations > Prohibited Grounds > Sexual Orientation. 8. Egale.ca, “Genderbread person: components of human identity.”