Trans And Non-Binary Voices in the Legal Sector

Held on 17 February 2021

About the event

Please join our LGBT+ Network for a celebration of LGBT+ History Month exploring trans and non-binary talent in the law. We have assembled a panel of legal professionals from across the trans and non-binary spectrum who will share their journeys and insights with us. This event is open to all members and supporters of the LGBT+ Network.

Our panelists include:

Danni Davies, Associate, Real Estate, Latham & Watkins (they/them) 

Zoë Hutchinson, Associate, Anti-Trust & Competition, Latham & Watkins (she/her)

Lui Asquith, Director of Legal, Policy and Operation, Mermaids (they/them) [DID NOT ATTEND]

Alex Woolhouse, Pro Bono & Legal Strategy Coordinator, Mermaids (she/her)

Daniel Winterfeldt, Partner, Global Capital Markets, Reed Smith; Founder & Chair, InterLaw Diversity Forum (he/him) (moderator)

Blurb for the event
  • Octavian Starr from Stonewall Housing (not associated with Stonewall UK) / Associate at Global Butterflies was the replacement for Lui Asquith from Mermaids.
  • Rachel Reese, CEO from Global Butterflies also attended.


With typical hyperbole we were told that the panel was made up of ‘five non-binary and trans superstars’. The law firm Latham & Watkins LLP sponsored the event and was facilitated by their internal LGBT network group, with two of the panel being on its LGBT leadership committee. Diversity and inclusion was at the heart of the company’s ethos, and they had introduced pronouns on email signatures for internet bios and gender neutral options for bathrooms in their offices worldwide. Doing pro bono LGBT work was also important.

Global Butterflies helped Interlaw Diversity Forum develop their Guide to Gender Neutral Drafting, available on their website. It had been downloaded thousands of times and a number of law firms had started to use it as a template.

Personal journeys

Danni is a gay man who identifies as ‘non-binary’, who one suspects has found it advantageous for his career to jump on the bandwagon.

Zoe, whilst doing pro bono work helping people get their gender legally changed, in tandem with having an exclusively queer friend group (so much for practicing diversity and inclusion), learnt that he himself was transgender. He transitioned whilst at Latham & Watkins and it had been a fantastic supportive environment.

The token woman on the panel, Octavian, had been trans-identified for the last 20 years and realised she was now a ‘trans elder’. Currently 50 percent of Stonewall Housing’s service users now identify as trans, whereas three years ago it had only been 10 percent. She didn’t really know why that was.

Alex from Mermaids described himself as privileged, having been privately educated and being offered a training contract at a major law firm when he graduated. Following graduation, just as he started law school, he realised he was trans, and luckily Rachel Reese from Global Butterflies was able help him out at that time and helped again once he wanted to transition at his workplace.

Last, but not least, Rachel Reese from Global Butterflies was introduced. He made the point he was older than Octavian. He put his first dress on in 1972 and was bullied throughout school. He saw the programme about Julia Grant documentary so knew there were people like him. He worked in the defence industry which was a very ‘male oriented environment’. In the 90s he trained as a lawyer and was visiting more crossdressing clubs. When he finally got a job with a law firm, he joined in ‘male expression’ and eventually ‘transitioned’ whilst there. He now runs Global Butterflies which has an incredibly impressive list of clients from the public and corporate sectors.

Allyship/ how can people be more supportive?

The most important thing that companies can do, we heard from Danni, the non-binary one, was provide your pronouns and have gender neutral bathrooms, even though he apparently had to ‘go up 14 flights of stairs’ (perhaps use the lift next time babs). Neither of these things had been done because he had asked. He was also delighted that ‘cisgender’ people were also getting in on the act by complying with pronouns. This made him feel a ‘lot more comfortable and at home’. Also, please don’t worry if you get their pronouns wrong! (We won’t!)

Zoe felt that the first act of allyship was listening to other voices outside of our own experience and challenging your own responses (i.e. auto-brainwashing). When they began their transition they met with HR and discovered that there was another trans employee, who was able to act as a guide. The common refrain from colleagues was ‘how can we support you?’ (in line with company policy presumably).

At this stage a member of the webinar’s audience asked why the panel was all white, and the host Interlaw pointed out that the numbers – 1 percent trans population/ 15 percent non-white population – made it difficult to always provide the right faces. He stressed that two of the panel identified as ethnic minorities and that one of the panel members had recently helped ‘a trans woman of colour’.

To make further amends for the all-white panel, Octavian told us that 92 percent of the trans service users at Stonewall Housing were BAME/QTPOC and spent at least the next five minutes on the topic. The host then came back and wanted to assure us that a previous panel had included ‘a trans woman, a visibly disabled person of colour, it featured a muslim woman with the hijab and another muslim woman who was also black, without the hijab, and we put them all together and said “this is what intersectionality looks like”‘. (Or tokenism. You choose.)

Alex told us a vocal ally would be someone who would make him feel ‘like one of the girls,’ e.g. being invited out on the women-only social night out at law school and getting dressed up in the girls bathroom before a party. Supervisors need to understand that a transitioning person will have a ‘lot of unexplained doctors’ appointments’, e.g. you might have a laser appointment at 5pm (so an appointment at the beautician’s then, not the doctor). Not forgetting the previous slight we were told that mentorship is very important for LGBT+ and people of colour.

Interlaw Diversity were about to launch a mentorship scheme which would connect lawyers with clients to have outside mentoring and reverse mentoring.

Rachel told us that Global Butterflies do allyship training, sometimes they call it ‘co-employee training’, but other times ‘decent human being training’ (patronising git). It works on three levels: individual, networks and corporate. Allies need to be visible so that people like Rachel knows who is safe to approach, so this can be marching at Pride, attending virtual Pride, engaging with social media, e.g. ‘liking stuff’, and putting your pronouns in your signature box. Allies will write articles in support, sometimes standing behind, sometimes alongside or at the moment, in these incredibly difficult times, standing in front. Write to the editors of papers, stop your subscriptions to negative publications, sign petitions. If your HR department only lists three genders, call them on it. Write to your MP, they have to respond. This is all stuff individuals can do.

Corporates have to be mindful of climate change and having a diverse workforce nowadays, and that diversity strand includes employing trans and non-binary people. Other actions could include making positive public statements about trans and non-binary people. When the GC lot swarm a corporate after they make such a statement, it was essential that the Corporate doesn’t back down. Corporates have a lot of power and can write to government. Rachel had noted and disgruntled that certain companies had simply paid lip service to being trans positive.

Governments come and go, corporates are forever.

Rachel Reese, Global Butterflies

Interlaw Diversity told the call that there had been recent case law which now gave protection to people with non-binary identities (presumably an oblique reference to the Jaguar case, which did no such thing). The media was then criticised for platforming ‘these people’ (i.e. the gender critical movement) and a comparison was made to the Nazis and Ku Klux Klan. If only people were more educated about trans and non-binary people this would not be happening and the media would realise it was ‘diametrically opposed to the law’ and ‘ethical behaviour’.

Question and Answer

What about the clash between providing ‘gender neutral bathrooms’ and disabled toilets.

Danni, the property lawyer, answered. The government had recently run a consultation on toilet provision. Danni denied anyone had any interest in reducing women’s spaces and said it was about creating ‘optionality’ for those not comfortable in either male or female spaces. He admitted that most buildings are not able to accommodate these additional spaces. Stonewall had an ‘inclusivity standard’ for new buildings, and this standard would cover the needs of LGBT+, disabled and neuro-diverse people. Currently in some buildings the gender neutral and disabled toilet is the one and the same, but for new buildings it will be different. He didn’t believe that gender neutral toilets should be the standard for everyone and admitted that most men and women did not want to share facilities with each other. Personally he didn’t want to see anyone in the bathroom (erm, is there anyone eager to actually see someone else when they go to the toilet?).

Interlaw Diversity pointed out that disabled people might have urgency issues. New building designs will provide many more ‘gender neutral toilets’ (i.e. mixed sexed spaces) – it was the latest trend and he had spoken to architects who had confirmed this. People needed to move forward and not focus on the past (forgetting, or perhaps ignorant, that it has probably only been since 1915 that separate sexed facilities started to come into existence, allowing women to take part in public life, and were only enshrined in UK law in 1992).

Should law firms retain a training position for LGBT+ individuals and/or trans-identified people? If not, what else should they do?

One was part of a HR sub-committee and felt that quotas were not very inclusive (indeed they are illegal) and should focus instead on policy and mentorship and ensuring that you are receiving applicants from a diverse pool (i.e. a quota via the back door).

Someone had made a comparison between pregnancy and transitioning in the comments, and should the policies look similar.

Rachel said time off might be needed for laser or might be needed for counselling or simply changing ‘gender expression’ (i.e. buying a new wardrobe). It shouldn’t be treated as sick leave, e.g. if a man needed 11 weeks off for electrolysis this could be treated as one incidence of sickness. Some organisations don’t treat it as sick leave at all, and just give you the time off. Some even financially support you and match it to an equivalent policy right. Some might make you take it as unpaid leave, which was tough. (Off the scale entitlement anyone?)

As a client what can we do to better support trans-identified people?

Direct work their way or ask them to be on your team. At relationship meetings tell them how important they are to the team and the client. Ask them about their advancement and promotion. Are they receiving a bonus? What is their career trajectory to partnership? Are they receiving credit for their work. If clients don’t ask, it doesn’t always happen.

Also look at who you are giving your work to. Interlaw was about to release a UK Model Diversity Survey, which would give a complete breakdown of diversity strands. They don’t expect many law firms to have trans and non-binary staff right now, but they expect to see those numbers increase in the future, and this tool would track that.

Danni commented that when receiving customer pitches, diversity statistics were often requested, and a box needed to be ticked by someone who ‘considers themselves diverse’ (so that could be anybody for any reason, I guess). He had received positive feedback about having pronouns in his email sig from a client (crikey).

Can you be your authentic self externally as well as internally? How should firms address any discrimination from clients?

Put on a show of support for LGBT+ people, and that it is not an issue to be debated. Zoe had attended a dinner with some important clients just a month into transition and no fuss had been made about it. He had had no issues with clients or colleagues.

Rachel repeated the importance of pronouns on bios, websites and emails. Allies needed to be active, so the UK would be a nicer place to be for trans people.

It was wrapped up by Interlaw with a final plea to reach out to various pro-trans groups to do pro bono work and that there were two struggles; to thrive and survive.

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One comment

  1. This is the BS we get from the over-privileged and under-occupied white middle class. They haven’t got enough struggle or angst in their lives, so they’ve invented gender ideology. Those supporting them, but who don’t actually want to the trans thing themselves, get to have some purpose in their lives without having to do anything, whilst also being secure in the knowledge that they can opt out at any time.

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