Advancing Intersectionality and LGBTQ+ Rights in the Legal Industry: Insights from Jacqui Rhule-Dagher

Discover the inspiring journey of Jacqui Rhule-Dagher, an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and intersectionality in the legal industry. Learn about her initiatives and insights on improving acceptance and representation.

Tell us about your accomplishments to date?

I’ve been involved in diversity and equality initiatives throughout my career.

As a trainee solicitor, I set up Carnival Comes to Clifford Chance – an annual summer party, hosted jointly by the BME and Pride networks to raise awareness around intersectionality. Stonewall and Channel 4 supported the event.

More recently, I founded Hogan Lovells’ “LoveALL Festival”. Held during National Inclusion Week, the festival celebrated the firm’s commitment to ensuring that everyone can bring their authentic selves to the workplace. Major organisations such as BNP Paribas, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, ITN and Pop’n’Olly were there.

Last year, during Lesbian Visibility Week, I founded Legally Lesbians. The initiative involved 25 lesbian lawyers writing about their careers and the importance of lesbian visibility. The pieces we produced were published in DIVA Magazine.

A month later, I was invited on to Bloomberg Radio to talk about how people in traditionally conservative industries such as law, finance and engineering can navigate being part of the LGBTQ+ community whilst working in the City.

I’m delighted to sit on The Law Society’s LGBTQ+ Solicitors Network Steering Committee. I’m one of just 16 lawyers from England and Wales tasked with ensuring that LGBTQ+ lawyers can thrive in the legal industry.

I’ve been lucky to be recognised for my work supporting the LGBTQ+ legal community and raising awareness around intersectionality. I featured on the 2023 Pride Power List and the Outstanding Role Models List, supported by YouTube. I was also named as ‘Highly Commended’ by the Bank of London Rainbow Honours Awards, in the ‘Financial Times Corporate LGBTQIA Champion of the Year’ category. This year, I was featured on the Attitude 101 Trailblazer list.

What are the barriers in representing many intersectional identity groups?

I think that a number of barriers exist in representing many intersectional identity groups. These include, but aren’t exclusive to, a lack of understanding surrounding intersectionality and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) operating in silos.

The concept of “intersectionality” is often misunderstood. The term was coined by an American academic, Kimberlé Crenshaw, in 1989. Crenshaw highlighted legal cases where people were required to choose between bringing a claim under the headings of ‘racism’ or ‘sexism,’ but couldn’t argue that they had been discriminated against due to the combined effects of racism and sexism.

So, intersectionality describes how characteristics such as class, gender, race and other personal characteristics combine, overlap and ‘intersect’ with one another. When speaking about intersectionality, I remind people that I might experience lesbophobia differently to a white lesbian by virtue of my race; and I might experience racism differently to a Black man by virtue of my gender.

When organisations fail to take an intersectional approach, but rather a characteristic by characteristic approach, what they are effectively asking people to do is leave a part of themselves behind. This erasure is likely to exacerbate the feelings of isolation and marginalisation experienced by those with multiple intersecting identities.

Intersectionality impacts how inclusive an organisation is, how psychologically safe people feel bringing their authentic selves to work and how employers get the best from their employees.

This is why ERGs are so important in terms of making individuals with multiple intersecting identities feel welcome in an organisation. ERGs can also help to break down some of the barriers that exist.  It is vital, however, that ERGs do not operate in silos. Organisations typically have a network for gender, a separate race network and an LGBTQIA network . Yet what happens to individuals who straddle all three groups?

When I was a trainee, at Clifford Chance, I was part of the BME network and the LGBTQIA network. It soon transpired that in many areas, both groups were striving for the same things. With this in mind, I founded Carnival Comes to Clifford Chance. This was an annual summer party, hosted jointly by both networks, which had a focus on intersectionality. It was supported by Stonewall and Channel 4.

Very recently, I founded the LoveALL Festival at Hogan Lovells. This event celebrated the firm’s commitment to ensuring that everyone can bring their authentic selves to the workplace.

I can’t overstate the importance of meaningful collaborations between ERGs in terms of trying to overcome some of the barriers in representing many intersectional identity groups.

Do you think acceptance is improving?

In some respects, yes. In 2014, legislation for same sex marriage was passed which played a huge role in advancing societal acceptance. In 2021, the national census gathered data on sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time, revealing that more than 1.3 million people in England and Wales identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. It’s fair to say that at least some of these people felt comfortable disclosing their sexuality because they live in parts of England and Wales where their sexual orientation is accepted/celebrated.

It is a sad fact, though, that not all of the letters of the LGBTQIA acronym are afforded the same levels of kindness, respect and support. Our trans siblings, for example –  who the modern LGBTQIA movement owe so much to – face antipathy, hostility and insensitivity on a daily basis. I wish I had all of the answers, but I do know that using correct pronouns; calling out homophobic/lesbophobic/transphobic language/ behaviour and educating others and ourselves (because it is important to recognise your own biases) can help to improve challenging situations. Equality means nothing unless it’s for everybody.

In terms of the legal industry, I have seen positive changes over the years. In 2016, The Law Society established its LGBTQ+ Solicitors Network. I joined its steering committee in 2022; and I’m one of just 16 lawyers from England and Wales tasked with ensuring that LGBTQIA individuals can thrive within the legal industry. Several firms have made great strides towards LGBTQIA inclusivity.

Some examples of this include hosting lunch and learn sessions about the issues impacting the LGBTQIA community, creating inclusive policies within their organisations in relation to parental leave and fertility treatment, for example, and implementing mandatory training on topics such as microaggressions and unconscious bias.

It is also pleasing to see that behaviours which might once have been dismissed as “cheeky banter” are no longer acceptable. Years ago, I remember sitting in my office, and two colleagues were having a conversation and one of them said: “I probably shouldn’t say this, but that is so gay.” To which the other person said: “Don’t worry, it’s fine. I say it all the time .” I recall feeling extremely embarrassed, but I didn’t have the courage to say anything. Today, my response would be very different. One of the reasons for this is that there are a lot more out LGBTQIA lawyers and allies around.

What does been nominated in your category mean to you?

Being nominated by my peers feels really special. It is mind-blowing to think that people have kindly taken the time to champion me; and that someone, somewhere, appreciates my work. Nevertheless, my nomination is so much bigger than me. It’s a symbol of hope. It’s for anyone who wants to come out but can’t; it’s for anyone who’s in a jurisdiction where their sexuality is criminalised and their safety is compromised; and it’s for anyone who feels alone. It’s also a call to arms for allies (and let’s not forget that members of the LGBTQIA community can be allies to each other) to remember that the word “ally” is a verb, and that it is meaningless unless the first three letters of the word “ally” are remembered.