‘I had no assurances that being gay in law was okay’: LGBTQ+ students on life after coming out
Exeter University law students and co-founders of ‘Queer Lawyers of Tomorrow’ Olivia Reily and Owen Hussey on the challenges they faced and why they set-up their new diversity platform
University of Exeter law students Olivia Reily (she/her) and Owen Hussey are the co-chairs and co-founders of diversity initiative ‘Queer Lawyers of Tomorrow‘. Here they talk to Legal Cheek about the challenges they faced in their career journeys and why they decided to set-up the new platform.
Hey, we’re Olivia and Owen. As the founders of the LGBTQ+ and Law Exeter initiative, we have seen first-hand how a platform like this can positively support LGBTQ+ applicants.
We set up Queer Lawyers of Tomorrow, a nationwide platform designed to inspire, assist and empower aspiring queer LGBTQ+ lawyers in their journey to a successful legal career.
Olivia: For a lot of LGBTQ+ people, coming out is one of the most terrifying, mentally exhausting experiences of our lives. After finally mustering up the courage to live freely, openly and authentically, there is nothing more crushing than hearing the echoed rhetoric: ‘you’ll have to hide that if you want to be a lawyer’. This was my experience.
After coming out, I immersed myself into queer culture. I frequented gay bars, obsessed over shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and The L Word and quickly invested in a Pride-ready wardrobe. The relief of no longer feeling compelled to act a certain way was inarticulable.
However, I was yet to hear anything to challenge the idea that I could not bring this version of myself to a firm. I’d devoted a huge proportion of my life to pursuing a legal career, but I decided that any job that I had to conduct from the closet and sacrifice my new-found freedom for was simply not one worth having; I neglected law events for the following two years of my degree. Understandably, this was a significant set-back and I missed out on a lot of crucial opportunities.
It wasn’t until my final year, through my role on my university’s founding LGBTQ+ and Law Committee, that I realised how increasingly diverse and inclusive the profession is becoming. The primary repeated sentiment I took away was: ‘there is a place for LGBTQ+ people in law and NOW is the best, most exciting time for LGBTQ+ individuals to enter the profession’. Accordingly, I co-founded this platform to make sure that this is the rhetoric that is being echoed to the ‘Queer Lawyers of Tomorrow’.
Owen: When I first started law school, it was a daunting experience already and being gay made it even harder. In my personal life, I have always been comfortable with my sexuality but professionally I was scared about being my true self in the legal industry. This was partly due to my insecurities, but it is also because of the lack of diversity that exists in law. There are many amazing LGBTQ+ lawyer role models but I had never heard of them before doing my research. I had no assurances that being gay in law was okay.
I once asked someone reading my CV whether I should remove things on it that practically revealed my sexuality. I have been lucky in the sense that I haven’t faced much discrimination for being gay in my life, but I was afraid of entering such a heteronormative career. I now know that, in most cases, I should be okay but there’s a difference between being okay and happy. Being happy in a legal career is about being accepted and being surrounded by people who understand you, support you and help you grow. All queer people shouldn’t ever have to worry about being discriminated against. But, in reality, this is, unfortunately, the case. Through Queer Lawyers of Tomorrow, we will create a community that can lessen that worry for some queer people. Even if it’s just by a minor fraction. Being queer is amazing but the legal industry is outdated in many areas and all types of diversity must be improved.
Olivia Reily has just completed her final year studying law at the University of Exeter. She aspires to work in entertainment law. Owen Hussey has also just completed his studies in English and French law at Exeter. He is an aspiring criminal/human rights barrister.
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