‘I’m with you’: Pride in Law president, Supreme Court justice share how law and society have changed for LGBTQIA+ people

‘I’m with you’: Pride in Law president, Supreme Court justice share how law and society have changed for LGBTQIA+ people

22 November 2021 By Naomi Neilson
LGBTQI+ community

In the last five years, the support and inclusivity found in a profession that accepts its LGBTQIA+ members have not only changed their lives but have improved how the community is recognised both in society and in law. In Pride in Law’s fifth annual address, Queensland president Michael Bidwell shared his own experiences while the Honourable Justice Thomas Bradley described how change has happened.

In an emotional speech at Pride in Law’s fifth annual address, Queensland president Michael Bidwell shared that four years ago, the night before the first address, he was crying on the bathroom floor. He said that at the time, “I felt like I did not belong in the legal profession”, even though he had just been admitted four days prior. In a full circle moment, Mr Bidwell shared his first address four years after being inspired by Pride in Law winner Emile McPhee to get involved with the organisation.

Reflecting on his experiences since that night four years ago, Mr Bidwell said that while Pride in Law has been involved in monumental legislative and policy change that has shaped reforms and removed restrictive laws for people in the LGBTQIA+ community, “it’s the individual stories that provide insight into our impact”.

“A tribunal member came out to me and said I was the only person that knew their truth, a senior barrister attends our socials as their one night to be themselves, a solicitor came out to me as transgender after attending an event, a culturally and linguistically diverse student told me Pride in Law gave them hope at a time they feared their parents would disown them, and the list goes on,” Mr Bidwell shared.

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In his own Pride in Law address earlier this month, Supreme Court of Queensland’s the Honourable Justice Thomas Bradley reflected on what had changed in both the legal profession and wider community that replaced the argument that same-sex relationships “should be discouraged for character reasons” to one that accepts that ability or suitability “does not turn on sexual orientation or gender identity”.

Theorising on what inspired this change, Justice Bradley reflected on modern media and pop culture. In 1994, the “highest grossing British film ever” Four Weddings and a Funeral included a gay couple only to make them part of the funeral scenes – but the community’s responses of sharing personal experiences and stories have shifted the way that LGBTQIA+ people are represented both fictionally and in real life.

“Before long, it became clear that in every country, in every town, in every workplace, in every school, in every family, were fellow human beings whose existence had been ignored. They were our family, our friends, our colleagues. We could no longer pretend they did not exist,” Justice Bradley commented.

In his speech, Justice Bradley explained that the broadening of marriage equality boosted the total number of marriages and drastically decreased the divorce rate. The change in marriage laws, he added, did not prompt social division as critics suggested during the 2017 marriage law postal survey but instead led to an increase of Australians who agreed that homosexuality should be accepted widely.

In the Netherlands, where marriage laws changed in 2001, Justice Bradley said it significantly reduced the depression and anxiety experienced by both sexual minorities and different-sex couples. He said that he hopes similar improvements will continue to occur in Australia and flow on to reduce other social concerns.

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Reflecting on the part law can play in this debate – and particularly how it has through the equal marriage plebiscite – Justice Bradley first shared an anecdote of the United Kingdom’s former master of rolls, Sir Terrence Etherton, who was featured in an article about his joint decision that parliamentary consent was required for the UK to withdraw from the European Union. Rather than describing him as the second-highest ranked UK civil judge, he was an “openly-gay ex-Olympic fencer”.

“I suppose it is surprising the tabloid editor did not call his Lordship a ‘gay swordsman’. Neither his sexual preference nor sporting background was relevant to him joining with senior colleagues in this decision. This tells us that, even in places ahead of us in legal changes, work remains to be done,” Justice Bradley said.

“One cannot legislate courtesy. This legal enforcement of good manners may be the surest path to their demise. In a way, the resounding ‘Yes’ vote in Australia equal marriage survey, sent the message that a little less of telling people what they cannot do is in order. It showed the goal of social stability can be achieved without greater state control over individual lives. It was a reminder of the distinction between society and the state and the need to respect the primacy of the former.”

In finishing his speech, Mr Bidwell said that while Pride in Law has not yet changed the world, it has changed his own and many others in the legal profession.

“I know sometimes it’s hard to find pride, but Pride in Law requires pride in you. Tonight I toast to those of you who have also been on the bathroom floor crying because I stand in front of you four years later as living proof that it gets better. Due to the support of many, I chose to stay in this profession, and I now choose to be part of the support network for others. I promise I’m with you,” Mr Bidwell said.

‘I’m with you’: Pride in Law president, Supreme Court justice share how law and society have changed for LGBTQIA+ people
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