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My Pride Story
Melbourne counsel Stephen Carlton

June 2022: Stephen Carlton is a corporate counsel in our Melbourne office. He shares his #MyPrideStory and explains how he sees the legal industry changing to become more inclusive for all.

Growing up "different" is not easy
For many of us LGBT+ individuals, who spent much of their adolescent years hiding their true self from family, friends and the community, it can be very isolating and can negatively impact our lives for years to come. Finding for the first time that there is a community for you—one that has shared experiences, and has come out the other side—is like a warm blanket you never want to let go of. Whether in your hometown, or on the other side of the world, the LGBT+ community at its core is solidarity, friendship and fun!

I don't feel you need to declare anything about yourself
I'm of the opinion that one shouldn't have to be "out" at work, but rather, you should be able to be authentic, unashamed, proud and comfortable bringing your true self to work, every day. I don't feel you need to declare anything about yourself; just be you, that's all that matters.

Unconscious bias is something that allies can seek to change
People always ask me, generally because I have kids, "what does your wife do?" It's not awkward for me anymore, I think it's fun watching the reaction, but the unconscious bias is awkward. Allies can change this narrative by keeping our language deliberately neutral when we don't know someone's circumstances; finding a way to light-heartedly interject if overhearing such a conversation.

The legal industry is still conservative...
The legal industry, and the professional services industry in general, is still in many ways very conservative. Many business development events, for example, are still very "boys club" focused and opportunities arise for those who operate comfortably in that space.

... but things are changing
Many of our clients are representative of diverse and dynamic communities. They have to answer to shareholders, and governments, and customers, all of whom are demanding accountability and inclusivity. The Firm's actions to support LGBT+ people—along with the Firm's support to diversity and inclusion in general—and not just as a reactionary, but as a leader—gives our clients the faith that we are on the same page.

... and the legal industry is taking action
I also believe that the legal industry is leading in many areas in creating an inclusive workplace, and I know the support I received from my colleagues at White & Case and the Firm itself when I was going through the adoption process with my children was invaluable.

Visibility and inclusivity is what positively impacts me at work
I don't believe that whether I'm an LGBT+ person or not should necessarily positively impact my career—but neither do I believe that it should negatively impact my career. To me, seeing the Firm, my colleagues and other allies all working to create visibility and inclusivity, without barriers, is what positively impacts my work and my career in the law. Whether it is Pride drinks, implementing LGBT+ friendly policies, supporting global pro bono initiatives designed to address homophobia, or simply creating an authentically inclusive workplace—these experiences are what I see as the true positives, as they benefit everyone.

Spectrum is about community
Through Spectrum, we can come together and celebrate LGBT+ inclusion in a visible way. It is also a reminder that not all of our colleagues who identify as LGBT+ will do so at work—and that's ok—but we want them to know that they are supported, they are welcome.

Pride is not just a party
Many of us have lived through periods of being so un-proud of who we are and who we were born to be. It is a reminder that you belong to a community that will not live in shame—and that lifted me up when I first discovered the LGBT+ community, and it lifts me up today. This is the first year I will ever march in a Pride parade, and it will be with the Rainbow Dads Victoria group—a group that brings queer dads and their kids together to celebrate the journey they have been on to start a family through non-traditional methods!

The next generation will thank you
Be who you want to be and don't accept any limitations on that. Lawyers can be and are leaders in their communities, so don't be afraid to lead by example—the next generation will thank you for it.