Simon Edward Rowbotham

“Can you be a Barrister and openly gay?”

I cringe to think I ever asked myself that question, let alone worried that the answer might be “no”. I know now, of course, that I was not alone; indeed, I suspect (sadly) that I am just one of a long line of gay law students who joined the Bar with a similar anxiety. I sometimes look back at my very early career and wonder how much of my perception of the profession was shaped from what I actually knew as opposed to my own self-constructed belief. In reality, it was likely a mixture. Certainly, I encountered homophobia; the memory of hearing a silk describe an openly gay junior as a “f*g” has stuck with me. The fear of being ‘out’ in Chambers felt real: would I damage my prospects of obtaining tenancy?

But that was 2011. In the decade that has followed, the LGBTQ+ Bar has continued to make itself known within and outside of the profession. For me, it has been a real source of Pride to be involved in the establishment of the Middle Temple LGBTQ+ Forum and to see rainbow flags flying above the Inns of Court; to take my partner to Chambers’ events and introduce him to colleagues. With hindsight, my fear of being open in Chambers was entirely unnecessary. Of course, there is always more to be achieved. But there is also cause to celebrate the unprecedented level of visibility and respect we now have, whether at the Bar or on the Bench. For many students and junior barristers entering the profession today, it really seems (I hope) that the question of mutual exclusivity – to be openly gay or a barrister – is so ludicrous, the answer so obvious, that it never even occurs to them. And that is absolutely as it should be.