Sick and tired of LGBTQ+ microaggressions?
Microaggressions are negative comments, actions or omissions which fall short of outright hostility, and can be intentional or accidental. They are often underpinned by false assumptions, myths or stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people and can invalidate our experiences.
By Bridget Garrood
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author.
- Our existence as LGBTQ+ lawyers is valid, even if others tell us it is not, or actively campaign against our rights, or against legal reforms which would make our life more manageable.
- Taking time to celebrate or look after ourselves is not selfish. Given that there are organisations, individuals and jurisdictions wishing us fewer rights or other harm, self care and Pride are both courageous forms of activism!
- Whether or not we attend Pride events, or conceal our identities for any reason within the professional closet, LGBTQ+ lawyers deserve not only to be accepted at all levels of the legal profession, but to be safe, and celebrated.
In common with others from underrepresented communities, there are times when for LGBTQ+ people, resilience is acquired at a high price to our emotional, physical and mental health. If you are trans and regularly deadnamed or misgendered; if you are non-binary and told that your gender identity is not real; if you are bi or pansexual and people call your sexuality invalid; if you are Black or Muslim as well as queer and have to constantly ‘bounce back’ from racist and homophobic microaggressions, then the chances are that you know only too well how this feels.
How do I deal with LGBTQ+ microaggressions?
It is always up to you whether or how to respond. This may vary from one situation to another depending on the setting or how you are feeling at the time.
The microaggression may have falsely assumed you are heterosexual and/or cisgender, so a split-second decision is often called for whether to respond. It is not your responsibility to respond, nor are you under any obligation to ‘out’ yourself to ‘call out’ such behaviour.
It can be hard to distinguish between their intention and the impact it has caused you.
Split-second decisions are called for far more often than is appreciated by those who are not minoritized by their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The cumulative effect of suppressing our response can cause a build-up of supressed anger or stress. This can mean we are responding to a history of microaggressions, many of which we have ‘let pass’, rather than just the incident which has occurred. This in turn can lead to accusations of over-sensitivity on our part, which feeds into a vicious circle effect. The anticipation of microaggressions and supressing or responding adds a layer of stress which can make social or work situations extra tiring or lead us to avoiding them.
Talking to other LGBTQ+ people can help to normalise our experiences with microaggressions and enable us to share different ways to respond.
Talking to allies can help diffuse the impact in the moment rather than let it stick on the inside as unexpressed distress/anger. It is not your responsibility to educate allies but if you are able to find colleagues whom you trust to share the impact of certain behaviours on you (e g misgendering) this can improve the support you and other LGBTQ+ people receive from allies as bystanders who can call out microaggressions in future situations.
To have time to recover between knockdowns, you may have to actively avoid certain high-risk situations. If you do have time to recover, then your innate resilience has a chance to make you stronger, but not so much if the knocks keep on coming whilst you are still bruised.
Tips (if it feels safe to do so):
- You can try asking the speaker to clarify or repeat what they said or meant by their comment – this gives them a chance to reflect and the opportunity to apologise or correct themselves.
- Either at the time or at later opportunity, you can explain to the person who made the comment or to a manager how the comment made you feel uncomfortable.
- If you are trans and considering transitioning at work you , or an ally colleague may wish to draw your employers attention to the HR and Managers Guides and template.
- If the microaggression involved misgendering, and the workplace wants to do better, they can consider adopting a voluntary pronouns policy , such as that produced by The Law Society and included on the above link.
Bridget qualified into the professional closet at a time when there were no legal protections for LGBTQ+ people or families in 1994. She continues to practice part time as a consultant solicitor, but is equally focussed on supporting the wellbeing of her fellow lawyers, having qualified in 2022 as a reflective practice family law supervisor. In this aspect of her consultancy business she practices as a member of the Association of Family Law Supervisors.
In her volunteer role with the Law Society LGBTQ+ Solicitors Network Committee, Bridget led their project team for trans and non-binary inclusion, whose output includes a suite of documents for law firms and other organisations to adopt free of charge. This supports employees with transition and change to gender expression in the workplace. The Law Society is an organisational ally to trans and non-binary lawyers which: is proud to have you within the profession and to stand with you in seeking equality and acceptance.
Bridget mentors aspiring LGBTQ+ lawyers and student bodies, contributes to blogs and podcasts, drawing on her 29 lived experience as a lesbian lawyer, and her practice as a family law solicitor, for which she is acknowledged in Legal 500 as a leading LGBTQ+ specialist family lawyer. She is a member of the UK and Ireland LGBT Family Law Institute, part of a global network of leading family lawyers who are at the cutting edge of LGBT+ family law issues. She has a national following as a champion of progressive LGBTQ+ legal reform, and has for over 30 years advised and supported LGBTQ+ clients. She is one of a tiny handful of solicitors with many years of expertise advising trans and non-binary clients seeking specialist family law expertise, and/or advice on the narrow and intrusive process for obtaining legal recognition under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, now long overdue for reform.