Big Law gets a little bit gayer // Good News From Bay Street

Watching Bay Street slowly raise the rainbow flag

By Kirsten Thompson

On Wednesday September 9th, 2015


I have always been out, at least as far as Bay Street is concerned. When I first started my career, in 2000, this made me something of a novelty. Not anymore.

In the last decade or so, Bay Street firms have covered a lot of ground in the race to embrace the rainbow: most large firms have an LGBT employee resource group, many participate in the Out on Bay Street recruitment fair and, in the last few years, more and more firms are throwing Pride events.

Kirsten Thompson

Kirsten Thompson
Counsel at McCarthy Tétrault LLP

I wish I could say these efforts at being inclusive were due to fearless leadership from the firms, but it was our clients who drove the change. Law firms got on board, at least initially, because there was a relationship risk — key clients demanded that their legal teams reflect the diversity of their own staff, and law firms got the message. Now, firms independently recognize diversity, including LGBT diversity, as both a social imperative and a competitive necessity.

At McCarthys, I’ve gone from having to explain what a Pride parade is to having to give the bum’s rush to senior partners, who were having such a good time at the firm’s Big Gay Party that they were still going strong at 1 a.m.

I once made the senior folks nervous if I showed up at their events (is she going to do something… gay?), whereas I am now a bit nervous if they show up at mine (for the love of all that is holy, please please please don’t bust out your disco moves).

In fact, the people who run this place are tripping over themselves to be gay-friendly. People now ask if I’m gay not because they are looking for scurrilous gossip, but because they want to fix me up with their friend (um . . . thanks?).

So is it now rainbows and glitter all the time? Not quite. After decades of being lumped together in the LGBTTQ alphabet soup, it’s clear that the success won by the community is not equally shared by all its members. Women, for instance. While most firms have healthy numbers of queer folks in the junior ranks, they thin out at the partnership level. To the extent firms have LGBT people at the top, they are almost all gay men. Gay women at the top are as rare as unicorns.

Still, these firms have come a long way in a short time. Some are leaders, some are followers, but all have made progress. I’m delighted that my own firm is way out in front, not only because of my own work for the cause, but because of the broader efforts of committed leadership. We were the first Canadian firm to hire a chief diversity and engagement officer and last year’s World Pride party was one of the hottest tickets of the season.

Oh, and to those of you who still want to introduce me to your friend, the line starts on the left.

Cover of the Fall 2015 Issue of PrecedentThis story is part our series on how Bay Street firms are getting better, from our Fall 2015 issue.