these are the lawyers of the LGTBI collective

This year, the month of LGTBI pride has been clouded by the controversy starring Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian Prime Minister, who recently approved a law prohibiting the reproduction of content that “represents sexuality or promotes the deviation of gender identity “. At the national level, and just a few days ago, Isabel Díaz Ayuso announced that she would review the LGTBI laws after forming a government with the support of Vox, which wants to repeal them. On a day-to-day basis, the group continues to suffer attacks and episodes of discrimination. According to a report from the Observatory against LGTBphobia, During 2019 there were a total of 321 hate incidents, which left more than 330 victims. A figure that, however, is far from reality considering that 66% of the events are not communicated to the authorities.

To face this reality that persists even today, a handful of law firms in Spain specialized in LGTBI matters serve the group. They handle all kinds of matters: from divorces or challenging discriminatory dismissals to complaints of homophobic assaults or harassment. They say that the legal sector tends to be quite conservative, so its differential value is to offer a treatment of naturalness and empathy so that the client is comfortable, communicates with confidence and feels that the lawyer understands him.

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One of these firms is Olympe Abogados, located in Valencia. The objective of defining yourself on your website and social networks as sympathizers of the group is, precisely, to convey that trust to potential clients so that they know that they will understand their situation and will not judge them. “They come to us because they are looking for a space where they feel that they do not have to be coming out of the closet continuously”, says Isaac Guijarro, one of the founders of the firm.

He says that many people find it difficult to reveal their sexual condition, but it is an especially relevant factor in the legal field that can be crucial in certain processes. “An aggression out of nowhere is not the same as one that has been preceded by an insult like a shitty fagot,” says the lawyer. And he relates that, in the firm he worked previously, he saw cases of people who reported physical attacks, but hid this type of previous comments. “They were not saying it out of shame,” he laments.

Although it is a natural reaction in this type of case (in sexist aggressions it is also common for the victim to have an initial moment of fear and guilt), Guijarro emphasizes that the work of lawyers is to create a safe space of total trust, “And that requires a special sensitivity.” In his firm they mainly carry complaints of physical or verbal aggressions or harassment in social networks.

Screenshot of the Arcoíris Abogados website.

Legal, a very traditional sector

Much of the suspicion of some people belonging to the group when dealing with lawyers comes from the view that the legal is a very traditional sector. “The perception is that the professionals are very conservative and it will be difficult for them to understand your case,” says a client. In fact, many of them claim to have had negative experiences with other firms. “Someone has told me that you have felt a lack of understanding or empathy because the lawyer did not understand your problem or minimized it“, indicates Guijarro, who thinks that they do not do it from evil, but from ignorance.

Many clients have felt a lack of empathy because the lawyer did not understand their problem or minimized it

Some awkward situations have come from simple details. For example, because when ordering a divorce ask where is the wife or husband assuming they are a heterosexual couple. “It is a question that is asked unconsciously, but for the client it can be annoying”, underlines Jesús Encabo, founder of the Madrid law firm Arcoíris Abogados. This is precisely one of the reasons for Néstor, a client of Olympe Abogados, to opt for an office that is openly defined as LGTBI ‘friendly’. “I have hired other professionals and, although the service was good and of quality, I did not feel complete comfort,” he confesses.

Other clients report more serious episodes such as jokes and inappropriate comments or that, even, have a firm reject your case because of your sexual orientation. In this sense, Encabo recalls the case of a client who was accused of harassing his ex-partner. When he told him about the situation and the lawyer told him that he would take his defense, the man was moved and told him that he had gone to three other law firms, but that they had all rejected him. “They told him that it was a lost litigation, but my client suspected that the refusal was due to the fact that he was gay,” he criticizes.

Inclusive language and open mind

Empathy is, according to specialized law firms, a key element in the relationship with their clients. In this sense, Encabo explains that most of the issues that he deals with are related to family (and, specifically, divorces), so it is essential not to assume that the marriage is heterosexual. “It is also important to adapt the language and use neutral formulas. Referring to the partner rather than the husband or wife, for example“, he emphasizes. Or first ask a client with what gender he feels identified to address him.

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The trust generated by this predisposition is an added value that helps to build customer loyalty. Thus, the lawyer reports that although many have come to the firm at first for a case related to discrimination, they have ended up deriving all kinds of issues. One example was a worker who had been with the company for more than a decade, but was fired when they learned that he had married another man. “We reached an agreement and they paid him more than 40,000 euros in compensation. The employee was very happy, and when he founded a company, he called us to bring him the commercial issues,” he says.

In your case, the decision to focus its services to this area was mainly business. “In Madrid there was no specialized law firm, so it was a business opportunity as well as a social need,” explains Encabo. In addition to civil and labor matters, they also cover criminal matters such as medical negligence in transsexual operations.

“And the ID of the wife?”

It’s not just the law firms. The administration of Justice also has a long way to go when it comes to LGTBI realities. “Much awareness is lacking,” says Guijarro. And he exemplifies it with an anecdote lived years ago in a divorce between two men. “From the court they told us several times that the woman’s ID was missing. They repeated to us that there was a mistake and they had sent the data of two men“, describe.

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Another similar case was that of a verbal assault. The defendant insulted his client “shitty fag”, but the court acquitted him, considering that there was no discriminatory treatment because the aggressor could not know the sexual orientation of the victim. The client details Guijarro, he was a “very masculine boy”, so the judge understood that it had been a spontaneous insult as there were no elements to identify that the victim belonged to the collective. “He relied on the stereotypical image that a homosexual man has to have a pen or feminine gait,” laments the lawyer. Although they later won the case on appeal, the court ruling shows that there is still much to do.

The sensitization process of the courts, however, is a matter of time. For the lawyer, This situation is similar to that of the justice system of a few decades ago in relation to machismo. Over the last few years, judges have gradually come to understand that certain attitudes or realities had implications far beyond what they appeared on the surface. An example of this is the gender perspective in sentences or judicial recognition of different types of violence, such as vicarious or gas lights. “The same will happen with LGTBI problems,” concludes Guijarro.