Can you tell us a bit about yourself and who inspires you?

My name is Jacqui Rhule-Dagher and my pronouns are she/her. I’m a lawyer at Hogan Lovells International LLP, in the Complex Litigation group. I assist clients with a range of legal issues including breach of contract, fraud and misrepresentation. I’m also a writer, and I have featured in The Lawyer, Thomson Reuters, Metro, DIVA Magazine and PinkNews.

In April 2023,I founded Legally Lesbians. This is an initiative which involved 25 lesbian lawyers writing about their careers and the importance of lesbian visibility. Legally Lesbians was published by DIVA Magazine.

I’m lucky to have so many inspirational people in my life, I would run out of space if I listed them all! The LGBTQIA community is bursting with incredible people. I’m really drawn to people who adopt an intersectional approach when it comes to advocating for, championing and uplifting the LGBTQIA community. I’m also encouraged by allies who remember that the word “ally” is a verb and that it is meaningless unless its first three letters (“all”) are remembered.

Photo by: Fiona Freund

Why did you launch Legally Lesbians?

When I first entered the legal industry, as a paralegal, I was so deep in the closet that I could have convincingly played Aslan from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe-complete with the hair. I used to spend my Monday morning commute rehearsing answers to the much-dreaded question: “What did you do at the weekend?” I was terrified of outing myself if I revealed too much. One day, I slipped up and I told a colleague that I had been to the Dalston Superstore (a well-known LGBTQIA club). Well, you can imagine my relief when they thought that I was a DIY enthusiast! A turning point came for me when I was introduced to a senior lesbian lawyer, at another law firm. She assured me that sensible people wouldn’t care about my sexuality. She said something which has always stayed with me: “The important thing is that you are known as a lawyer, who happens to be a lesbian; and not ‘the lesbian lawyer.’ You have so much more to offer the City than your sexuality.”

A year later, I started working as a trainee solicitor at Clifford Chance. This was the first time that I worked with other lesbian lawyers and it was life-affirming. Six months into my training contract, I was seconded to another office in Dubai – where homosexuality is illegal. I made the decision to keep quiet about my sexuality, but the rumour mill went into overkill. Thankfully, the scenarios I played out in my head didn’t materialise (although I still maintain that I would have made a great addition to the cast of Orange Is the New Black). When I returned to London, I made the once unthinkable decision to become the firm’s Trainee LGBTQ+ Representative.

Now, I’m at Hogan Lovells where I sit on the UK Pride Network’s Steering Committee. I am very fortunate that there are two lesbian partners on the committee.

I founded Legally Lesbians because I remember how discombobulating, frightening and isolating it is to be in the closet. I don’t want anyone else to feel this way. Visibility is vital. If you don’t see people like you, you can start to think that you’re the odd one out, and that there is something wrong with you. I want people to see that being a lesbian isn’t a barrier to having a successful career in the legal industry.

How did you go about selecting participants for Legally Lesbians?

When I was looking for participants for Legally Lesbians, I took great care to ensure that the group was as diverse as possible in terms of age, seniority and race. Also, the 25 individuals comprise barristers, partners, in-house lawyers, senior associates, associates, trainees and even future trainees. Fortuitously, they also work in a number of different practice areas.

What I couldn’t plan for, however, is just how accomplished, gracious and incredibly talented the group would be; I truly hit the ‘Jac-pot’! Aderonke Apata’s journey, for example, is  awe-inspiring. She is originally from Nigeria and was almost forcibly removed from the UK on a Home Office charter flight to Nigeria in January 2013. Her asylum claim, based on the fact that as a lesbian who had been persecuted in Nigeria her life would be in danger if she was returned there, had been rejected. In a wonderful and much-deserved turn of events, Aderonke was called to the bar in 2022.

Also, in 2022, Dr Keina Yoshida was one of the lawyers who successfully litigated the Rosanna Flamer-Caldera v Sri Lanka case before the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This was the first international human rights case to establish that criminalising lesbian relationships is a human rights violation.

In 2021, Daisy Reeves was ranked as the fifth most influential LGBTQ+ Executive in the world, in the globally recognised Outstanding LGBT+ Role Models List, which ranks the most senior LGBTQ+ leaders in business worldwide, who are making the workplace more welcoming for the LGBTQ+ community.

Proving that it is never too early to make a positive impact, Zareen Roy-Macauley was named the TARGETJobs LGBT+ Undergraduate of the Year, in 2020.

In a lovely full circle moment for me, the lawyer who assured me all those years ago that most people wouldn’t care about my sexuality also took part in Legally Lesbians. She is a partner now and she continues to be a wonderful mentor, friend and source of inspiration to me.

My hope is that by seeing these brilliant people, lesbians will be encouraged to pursue a career in law; and that those who are already in the legal industry will be buoyed up by the fact that there is a diverse group of lesbian lawyers out there.

I also want to take the opportunity to thank Linda Riley, and the team at DIVA Magazine, for supporting Legally Lesbians.

What are the barriers for those with multiple intersecting identities?

I think that people with multiple intersecting identities face many barriers. 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. Notwithstanding that, it is important for ERGs not to 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 collaboration between ERGs.

Do you think acceptance is improving? And how about within the legal sector?

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 many 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 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.

Photo by: Jonathan Phang

How can your community support your initiative?

One of the best ways the LGBTQIA community can support lesbians in the legal industry, and more generally, is by adopting an intersectional mindset. Sometimes, I fear people think intersectionality is a brand of pasta. At its core, it is about remembering that when thinking about equality we need to think beyond attributes like skin colour and gender, and recognise that humans often have more than one characteristic that is subject to discrimination and hostility.

It is also important for people to remember that lesbians aren’t a monolith. There was a time when I used to fear that I was too Black to be a lesbian; and too much of a lesbian to be embraced by the “Black community”. One of the main reasons for this was the lack of lesbian representation in the media and in society more generally. The way lesbians have been portrayed in the media also compounded these feelings of isolation. Also, on the rare occasions I did meet other lesbians they couldn’t have been more different to me. This is why it is so important for people to come out (if they are able to), in order to show others that there are as many ways to be a part of the LGBTQIA community as there are types of teas; and that everyone in the community is deserving of allies, respect and dignity.

Finally, if you are a lesbian lawyer, or you know a lesbian lawyer who might be interested in taking part in Legally Lesbians, please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.

Photo by: Sarah Dagher