UK law firms that operate internationally must take a more active role in championing for the rights of the LGBT community according to Netanya Clixby, a committee member of the Law Society’s LGBT+ Division, and also the co-chair/ co-founder of the London Bisexual Network.
In a recent article, she noted that as per the Law Society the legal profession is expected to champion values like justice, fairness, and equity which then extends to encouraging the legal professions of international jurisdictions to uphold such values as well.
As per Equaldex statistics the LGBT community in the UK is accorded almost equal status under law and around 76% of the population considers homosexuality as socially acceptable. Both same-sex marriage and adoption are legal with employment laws and policies reflecting this.
In fact, law firms who operate in the UK are proud of their inclusive LGBT policies.
International Jurisdictions Against LGBT Challenge Law Firms’ Policies
Internationally, the LGBT community continues to face several challenges .
Although on the bright side, Australia legalised gay marriage, but the new U.S. administration has been openly unsupportive of LGBT equality. Further a major setback has been Bermuda repealing its gay marriage rules.
In this scenario, Clixby believes that “the actions” of not only the UK but also its law firms can be an example of how LGBT rights must be upheld.
She pointed out that modern law firms are more often than not are internationally active, particularly in areas of finance and commercial law.
Clixby has cited Bermuda and Dubai as two examples of “popular jurisdictions” for international law firms operating in financial services which both offer challenges for LGBT employees.
Bermuda’s roll back of the law legalizing gay marriage in December 2017 made it the world’s first country to take such a backward step on LGBT rights. Even though Bermuda is an overseas territory of the UK, the British government did not exercise its available right to block the bill repealing same-sex marriage.
International law firms often use local counsel from law firms of Bermuda for financial transactions. While in practice law firms of the country may not have “openly” prejudicial policies towards LGBT employees, it may be an uncomfortable environment for an employee in a same-sex relationship
Homosexuality is considered illegal in Dubai and can attract lengthy prison sentences.
The constitution of United Arab Emirates, enacted in December 1971, has no protections that can be availed of against discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender in the workplace.
Under Dubai’s laws, if an employer becomes aware of an employee identifying themselves as LGBT they are legally mandated to report the employee to the police.
An ‘Advocacy’ Model Is Needed
Most law firms today adopt the Embassy Model with respect to LGBT policies in jurisdictions that are not LGBT friendly Clixby said.
Here going against local laws the company is supportive of LGBT rights only within the walls of its office.
In Dubai, for instance international firms do not report to police any of their LGBT employees. But since it is a criminal offence, employers don’t promote a totally open LGBT approach.
According to Clixby , although this policy extends support to the LGBT community it maintains a discriminatory system .
She has suggested the ‘Advocacy’ model, wherein the firms take up “active lobbying” within the jurisdiction to introduce policies in support of the LGBT community, while ensuring equal employment policies internally.
A ‘Top Down’ Approach Needed
In Clixby’s opinion, the UK government must ask companies operating within the UK to make sure that all their overseas offices and also third party suppliers comply with LGBT friendly employment policies. By this rule not only would the offices of the overseas law firms get covered but also the offices of local counsel used.
Clixby has asserted that the civil rights of individuals belonging to the LGBT community must not be considered as “nice to have”, and more must be done at government level to support firms that are seeking to change policies in international jurisdictions.
She has suggested that a “top down change” pushed by the coordinated effort of various LGBT friendly governments, can result in “a zero tolerance policy” towards LGBT discrimination in at least some of the influential but currently non-LGBT friendly jurisdictions.