Pride is a time to remember not only those involved in and affected by the Stonewall Riots of 1969, but also to celebrate the brilliant progress made since, by many truly inspirational LGBT+ pioneers. It is a month for anyone and everyone, however they identify, to celebrate in a way they feel safe and comfortable.
As we approach the end of Pride month, I’m taking the opportunity to reflect on my own experience of the magistracy so far, the positive steps the Magistrates’ Association (MA) and its LGBT+ network have made to improve diversity and inclusion (D&I) and how we, as magistrates, can offer allyship to people who identify as LGBT+.
The enduring importance of Pride and support for LGBT+ magistrates
You may not identify as LGBT+ and therefore don’t feel you or the MA needs to get involved in celebrating Pride month. Or maybe you think LGBT+ rights and inclusion have improved so much that we don’t need to continue to raise awareness and promote D&I. It’s true that much progress has been made, but there’s still a long way to go.
Let me ask you this: do you know how many of your fellow magistrates, colleagues, victims, defendants and advocates are LGBT+?
It’s a difficult question to answer. Perhaps we just don’t know, or we don’t have access to the data. Often people prefer not to mention it. But why is that?
There are so many reasons: maybe they don’t feel comfortable approaching the subject, or they feel it’s personal and not relevant to share. But some don’t want to say because they are concerned about discrimination. After all, around 35 per cent of LGBT+ staff hide their identity at work for fear of discrimination, and about 18 percent are the target of negative comments or conduct. Less than half of the respondents to the MA’s 2021 survey reported being open about their gender and sexuality at court.
“A small gesture can mean so much more than you know.”
By demonstrating that we support diversity, we’re making a powerful statement that we care. Even a small gesture of support to someone who identifies as LGBT+ or speaking out if a colleague uses offensive language or jokes, can have a wide impact. It makes LGBT+ people feel better about themselves, included and equal. They may share their positive experiences on the bench with friends and colleagues. They may encourage other diverse, capable LGBT+ people to join the magistracy. A small gesture can mean so much more than you know. There is a new recruitment drive for more people from diverse backgrounds to become magistrates, so we can all play our part.
My experience of the magistracy so far
I’m a newly appointed magistrate; my swearing in ceremony was in March and I’m nearing the end of my training modules. I hope to have my first mentored court sitting in the autumn, which is both an exciting and terrifying prospect! So, I’ve yet to experience life as a queer person on the bench. If you’re wondering, I’m not insulting myself here; the once-derogatory term ‘queer’ was reclaimed by the LGBT+ community some time ago and is now often used as an inclusive umbrella term by people in the community to describe themselves.
I came out as a gay man 12 years ago, at the age of 25. But sometimes, even now, I feel anxious when meeting new people or going into a new situation. It can often feel like coming out all over again, when I’m asked if I have children or a wife! Sometimes people will even now ‘go cold’ on me when they learn I’m gay. So, it’s fair to say I was a little nervous about joining the magistracy and the potential for negative experiences. But my experience so far has been positive. I’ve got a fantastic, supportive mentor who’s loved hearing about my life and journey. The trainers are brilliant and my fellow newly-appointed magistrates are a wonderful group of people.
Support from the MA
I joined the MA soon after being appointed, as I was keen to discover as many resources as possible to help me along the way as a new magistrate. I was so happy to see that the MA is investing heavily in diversity and inclusion: there are networks for LGBT+, young, disabled, and Black, Asian and minority ethnic magistrates. These groups are coordinated by magistrates who commit even more of their time to volunteering to support the MA in this important mission. If any of the networks sound interesting to you, do sign up. It’s a great opportunity to get involved and have your voice heard.
I’m grateful I was given the opportunity to write this blog. Like organisations within the justice system such as HM Courts & Tribunals Service and the Judicial Office, the MA is keen to show support for and raise awareness of D&I events – such as these Pride ones you might wish to participate in – and is also always on the lookout for member-generated content. So, if you’re passionate about D&I or have a story to share, why not get in touch with the MA team? By sharing your thoughts and experiences, you’ll help to inspire others to consider joining us as magistrates.