Jody Klaire is an author, Bar course student and Gray’s Inn scholar. She is a proud member of Freebar, the network aiming to foster inclusion and support for LGBT+ people working as and with barristers, as well as initiatives promoting the rights of underrepresented groups at the Bar. In this blog marking LGBT+ History Month, Jody explores the importance of representation at the Bar. 


When looking for inspiration for this blog, I naturally looked around at the barristers I look up to and draw inspiration from as well as my own experiences of "lived history". My inspiration came from reading Counsel magazine's Silk supplement and stumbled across this statistic: of the 283 candidates applying for Silk in 2023, 14 LGBT+ candidates disclosed their sexuality — 13 gay men and one gay woman. Ten of those were interviewed, and seven were made Silk.  

If you’re a glass-half-empty sort of person, this would make you wonder why there aren't more LGBT+ persons being able to declare their sexuality or why the number is incredibly low. However, I’m a glass-half-full sort, so I smiled, firstly because when growing up, I never could have imagined that members of the LGBT+ community could be acknowledged and celebrated so openly, and secondly, because 14 people felt secure and happy enough with who they were they proudly declared their sexuality.

As advocacy is often said to be "selling a narrative", I decided to show why visibility counts instead of reeling off a list of the community’s accomplishments.

Imagine it is 30 years ago...

You’re a pupil, fresh from university, and you’re desperate to impress. You have managed to land the chambers of your dreams, and you walk into the room with a pupil supervisor who will determine if you make it as a professional. He expects you to make the tea, be seen and not heard, and act as he sees fit.

Just like every other pupil on the block… only you’re acutely aware that you’re not. Society outside has informed you and taught you that you are something to be suspected and despised. It could be assumed that you carry disease, that you’re an attacker in waiting or even that you just couldn’t find someone to marry you who thought you were attractive enough. There’s no such thing as a hate crime because it’s likely an attacker would be congratulated. You deserve it after all.

When your grand old pupil supervisor is personable, he asks you random questions about "courting" or when you’re getting married. He may ask you about your body language or make fun of you. Perhaps you’re not standing in a male enough way or you’re not feminine enough. You start off being able to brush off the questions and comments but the deeper into your pupillage, the more insistent your pupil supervisor becomes. If he finds out about you, you no longer have a career… at least that’s what you expect.

Pupillage becomes a tenancy, and the mask becomes as familiar as your wig and gown. Your sexuality or gender identity is a crime you have to hide. Outside work, you may find some respite, but this could likely turn into spontaneous moments of freedom or hiding away as though you are an unfaithful spouse. You may be a barrister, but you’re not you, and my educated guess is that you’re miserable. So do you toe the line and stay secure — or do you risk it and throw your mask away?

Some barristers chose to ditch the mask. They stopped assuming the role of a criminal or unfaithful spouse, turned around to their old pupil supervisor and said: "Actually…"

Many of those people fought for equal rights. They were part of the battle that turned society from punishing LGBT+ persons as criminals to walking up the aisle as equals in law and being able to correct their legal identities.

Now, imagine this...

It’s the present day. You’re a proud LGBT+ person. You’ve grown up in an era where it’s unlawful to discriminate against others because of their sexuality or gender, and yes, there are still hate crimes; people can still have strong opinions and dislike a stereotype that’s been presented, but hopefully, the majority of your experiences with people are positive.

Still, you’re nervous; you’re new. You’re fresh from university, and you’re desperate to impress. You have managed to land the chambers of your dreams, and you walk into the room with a pupil supervisor who will determine if you make it as a professional. Just like that pupil 30 years ago, your pupil supervisor has masses of power and your chambers have the say of whether you sink or swim.

You head into your chambers on the first day and meet your supervisor. They are still intimidating — successful barristers tend to have that air —however, there is an equality, diversity and inclusion policy in place, a copy of Freebar’s 'Visibility Project' in the reception and your supervisor may well be part of the LGBT+ community or an ally. In fact, one of the KCs in chambers could be one of those celebrated in Counsel magazine's Silk supplement on the desk.

If you feel confident enough, you have the safety and freedom to be yourself. Chambers prefers you to be yourself because that sets you apart from the hundreds of other applicants who applied. Bravery and individuality are championed. You’ve been able to join the Bar and be yourself. You have those who stepped out from behind their masks to look up to and feel inspired and reassured by. Seeing those faces and hearing their stories empowers you to do the same.

Pupillage becomes tenancy; their courage feeds yours, and your courage means you become the face and story a young law student or pupil looks at in a brochure or website. Your bravery feeds theirs. Yes, there remains a battle against ignorance and hate. Yes, it takes courage to unmask. Yes, it means that others can throw spite your way… But in that university dorm room, that law library, or that Inn scholarship interview is a person who sees you and realises they can be a barrister and they can be themselves, too.

So, why is visibility important?

Simply put, it feeds positivity; it feeds inspiration, and despite the opposition and sometimes venom from others, it feeds hope.

Being visible, in your own unique way is likely the most far-reaching, profound advocacy you will ever accomplish. History, LGBT+ History, shows us this. You are evidence of what is possible.

Every time someone looking for inspiration sees you, whether a Silk or a student, they realise that they can succeed too and that it is okay to be who you were meant to be.

As once put when equal marriage was granted, visibility was a clear message that love wins.