At Stobbs, we like people to share what times and dates of the year are important to them. I wanted to share what Pride means to me and share why Stobbs is a freaking great place to work in the bargain. My first and last use of freaking, hopefully.
As background, June marks Pride month in the UK and we are celebrating this at Stobbs. To match the bright colours of the Pride flag, we have encouraged our teams to ditch dark and pale colours, lose greys and beiges, for the colours of summer. They also get to tuck into some rainbow cake because we, erm, just love cake. Inclusivity is incredibly important at Stobbs. Not because we have a 10-page policy document. Not because it is merely seen as the “done thing to do” copying other businesses. We’re a genuine group of people trying to provide a supportive environment. This personal piece hopefully demonstrates this.
What does Pride mean to me as a gay man? I cannot speak for all gay men, of course, and what it means is quite personal. It also changes at different times of your life.
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the Pride events in five cities, or CSDs (Christopher Street Days) as they are known in the German-speaking world. I wasn’t out when I attended my first in Zürich so it was important for me on a selfish level. I joined the parade through the streets with a make-up wearing Markus from the canton of Glarus. This is a rather conservative canton that still operates an open-air, open to all form of parliament, yet Markus was free to be himself. I thought, fair play. We ended up in one of the main squares and, despite my lack of Swiss German, I could understand what was happening when the LGBT+ Supporters Club of, perhaps appropriately, Young Boys, the pro football team from Bern, were presented with an award. Being a season ticket holder at FC Basel, I was no fan of the team from the Swiss capital but, unlike makeup, this was football, this was something I was about. Being gay wasn’t all about glitter and Kylie and I had something I could identify with. That said, Kylie’s lesser-known track Your Disco Needs You is a belter.
I had a boyfriend, Kristian, by the time I attended my second Pride/CSD event in Munich. Kristian hailed from Bulgaria and Pride was very important to him. He’d experienced police discrimination in his homeland and Sofia Pride was a target of local neo-Nazis. I realised how lucky I was to have my background (notwithstanding all the challenges not wanting to be ‘not normal’ presented me). I learnt that sometimes you have to be brave and stand up for things. We have a fundamental human right to exist and that overrides any justification for us not to exist.
Amsterdam followed, a stunning Pride along the canals, and then London and Manchester with my now husband, Jon. It’s amazing to see the broad appeal and how we now see families come to these huge civic parties.
There’s been significant progress in LGBT+ rights over recent years yet there remain many challenges. The rise of the right wing domestically and globally is a concern. The treatment of transgender people by some recently has been, let’s be frank, vile.
Globally, homosexuality is still illegal in many countries and this map provides a striking visual of the situation. There are countries on there that many of us would consider ultra-modern, like Singapore, to places that many of us would love to go on holiday to. We know we’re about to have a World Cup in a country where homosexuality is illegal.
Despite this, I would like to be positive this Pride season and celebrate the progress made so it can hopefully encourage the world to continue in this direction. This doesn’t mean ignore and forget about challenges, and, yes, I’m certainly aware how lucky I am to live in a western democracy and how I can do this safely.
I was on a train recently and I was earwigging on a group of lads coming back from a weekend away. Among the chat of the various girls they’d been chatting up the night before, discussion moved on to football and how they hated going to games with someone they knew because he was always cracking homophobic '‘jokes’. A group of straight guys unashamedly anti-homophobic with no fears it would damage their masculinity. It’s modern. While there is an argument that they should call out this behaviour, you don’t know if this would result in them getting into a fight, for example. Feeling comfortable to call someone out is, I hope, the direction of travel though.
Pride was originally for LGBT+ people only, then they were joined by their close friends and family. Now, while it should not forget its protest roots, Pride is broader. We have straight allies everywhere and this is brilliant. There have been legislative changes over the last 20 years or so. When I turned 16, this wasn’t the age of consent for me, not that this painfully shy, uncool teenager was in any danger of breaking this law. Legal changes were obviously necessary, but the real sea change for me is how society has changed, in the main, in more recent years.
When I was in the early stages of my career, the words “batty boy” were openly said around the office as 'banter’ and so I am positive about how we have moved forward.
At Stobbs, we pride ourselves on being a place that is friendly, social, approachable and where we look after each other. We want our people to bring their whole selves to work. It’s not sound bites. This helps people perform well and feel comfortable asking questions and learning, in turn helping us continue to improve and be the best we can be. We care passionately about being a great place to work. I interview people regularly and I hope I represent this passion when trying to recruit people into the firm. The opposite of intolerant could be said to be tolerant. That’s a low bar in my interpretation of the word – Stobbs are not tolerant, we are above that, we are accepting and supportive.
We’re headquartered in Cambridge, the city of the olive sourdough classes. It’s so posh even the fire station is ex-directory. I joke, but it isn’t as diverse, understandably, as the bigger cities of London, Birmingham or Manchester. Yet, we proudly have a diverse team.
This is important as we represent some fantastic brands. Fantastic, and often very different brands. It’s important we are different. As trade mark lawyers, we’re often putting ourselves into the shoes of a notional average consumer. It’s therefore vitally important that we have tech geeks, sports nuts, fashionistas, wine connoisseurs, beer lovers, coffee snobs, takeaway addicts, movie nerds, DJs and more in our ranks. They are what make us, us. There’s an argument that sex, race, etc. isn’t important here but then, as examples, who is the average consumer of halal meat? Of tampons? Of gay bar services?
I was wondering how many people at Stobbs are gay, lesbian or bisexual. The old ‘statistic’ was 1 in 10 but that’s about as accurate as “make seven changes to a work and you avoid copyright infringement”. 3.1% of the UK population identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual in official statistics. People who are not out won’t appear in these figures obviously but at the same time, Stobbs don’t have many people under 24 (the 16-24 bracket saw the highest identification numbers) so for argument’s sake, let’s assume that percentage is about right. This would mean that at Stobbs about 5-6 people are gay, lesbian or bisexual. That’s a higher number than I believe there is here, but some organisations will have higher percentages than others and we’re not a tick boxing company that follows quotas.
If we have people who are not out at work, but are out outside of work, this would be more of a concern. The thing with coming out is you don’t just do it once (in a way, I am glad I didn’t realise this before I first came out). You are always coming out when you meet new people – thankfully, it does get easier. At Stobbs, we are a family. We talk about what each other’s interests are, what you did at the weekend and anyone and everyone should feel comfortable being out. This is without forcing anyone to be, some people are more private than others and we respect this.
People like myself and my gay friends have a strong appreciation of the generations that went before us because they laid the groundwork for our freedoms today. As I get older it’s incumbent of me to take some of this, admittedly nowadays far easier, responsibility. My door, or my Microsoft Teams, is always open for a chat in confidence. There is also a dedicated IP Out group. If the writing of this blog makes one current employee or future employee feel more comfortable then that’s more than I could have asked for.
Stobbs are a progressive company but that doesn’t mean we should ever be complacent. We are also open to improvement and challenges. I’ll set a challenge now to those of you with children or thinking of having children. There is nothing to suggest anyone here is homophobic and you would carry on loving your kids regardless of their sexuality. But would you think to yourself, “I’d rather they are straight though”? I accept this could be slightly selfish – leaving adoption aside, you want grandchildren. Or you want them to fit in at school or life – I understand, most children want to fit in and not be different and, ultimately, being straight means you are in the majority. However, if you can remove that thought, because it does cloud things, our Acceptance-o-meter moves another millimetre in the right direction.
To acceptance - and to cake.