Gay solicitors 'afraid to come out'

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Many gay and lesbian solicitors working in large City law firms are afraid to "come out" because of the dominant macho culture which they say has "undertones of homophobia".

The finding, contained in a Law Society report published today, follows an investigation into the experiences of gay and lesbian lawyers in the workplace.

Interviewees who had spent time at City firms told the Law Society of a heightened sense of heterosexual machismo and overt displays of masculinity by male staff. Many viewed the regular trips to lap-dancing clubs, rugby matches and drinking sessions as having "undertones of homophobia". And most participants acknowledged they were reluctant to "come out" at work for fear that it would hinder their careers.

While none of the participants in the study reported having experienced overt discrimination, they admitted feeling restricted by perceptions and expectations of discrimination.

The report said: "For some participants, there remained a strong belief that discrimination was rife, perhaps less so in smaller practices or the employed sector, but certainly in some City firms."

The Law Society called on law firms to challenge a perception of discrimination against gay solicitors. Its 80-page study concluded that firms should set up appropriate monitoring systems to collect data on the sexual orientation and experiences of solicitors.

Employers should ensure that their equal opportunities policies covered discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, and recognise same-sex partnerships for the purposes of employee benefits.