Photo Credits: Screenshot from IP Out’s Pride month event, “Religion & The Experiences of Lesbian and Gay People,” available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8le3A3Ow1U.
Shawn Dhue is an IPilogue Writer and a 2L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
For this year’s Pride month, I felt it would be important to shed light on how the intellectual property (IP) professional community is trying to create, recognize, and foster a Queer-friendly space for the LGBTQ2+ community. IP Inclusive, a UK-based network of UK’s IP professionals, was created in 2015. Their mission is to “promote and improve equality, diversity, and inclusion throughout the UK’s IP professions.” In 2016, a small committee of volunteers created IP Out, an inclusive space for LGBTQ2+ and allies that work in IP.
IP Out organizes events and activities throughout the year to support and connect Queer IP professionals. The events include coffee chats, social nights, panels on LGBTQ2+ topics, and webinars during the COVID-19 pandemic. Full of open discussion and all-around fun people, this UK network does a fantastic job of diversifying the IP sector.
On Wednesday, June 16, 2021, I attended IP Out’s Pride month event, “Religion & The Experiences of Lesbian and Gay People.” Although considered a controversial topic in the Queer community, the chair of the discussion, Darren Smyth, Partner and UK & European Patent Attorney of EIP Europe LLP, did an amazing job of leading the panelists throughout the webinar.
The panelists included: Saima Razzaq, a Queer Muslim activist who runs the only floating hotel in Gas Street Basin and led the Birmingham Pride March in 2019; Father Andrew Foreshaw-Cain, a priest for the Church of England and chaplain at Lady Margaret Hall; and Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu, the Principal Rabbi of the North London Reform Synagogue, who teaches the next generation of rabbis at Leo Baeck College.
Each panelist explained their unique experience practicing their religions while being out and proud about their sexualities, before answering some tough questions:
Regarding Queer people who are atheists and/or have issues with religion, what do you think we can do with that tension?
Father Cain explained that those who are Queer and religious could only acknowledge their privileges and consciously work to support each other. He stated that the Queer community should particularly be at the forefront of protecting and spreading transgender rights. Rabbi Ambalu explained that sharing individual stories that promote the joys of religion with others can break the tension. She noted that telling personal success stories promotes other voices amongst those who are concerned by religion. Razzaq answered that everyone has the right to tell their stories and lead their lives. As Queer people, it is essential to unite as one. Razzaq continued by explaining that someone leaving a faith may have trauma from those experiences, and Queer people must march together as a community to help those who have had bad experiences with religion.
Where do you go to pray? Have you ever felt not allowed?
Razzaq explained that she gets asked this question a lot as a Queer person and that she prays at her local mosque. The community got her to where she is in life, and that mosque is precisely where her community is. The mosque is open to everyone and is a community space. Razzaq recognized her privilege to pray at her mosque, as many Queer people cannot do the same. Her response goes back to her last answer about the Queer community uniting as one; dividing into different groups over religion or other differences is not helpful. Father Cain reflected on a story where, after coming out of the closet, a Bishop at his old church told him, “there is a church down the street for people like you.” Father Cain said he tried to keep going, but seeing the Bishop while praying made it difficult for him to enjoy his religion. He now prays and practices his faith at his local chapel. Rabbi Ambalu said that she’s like a shadow amongst people every time she goes back to her childhood synagogue because they chose not to pay attention to her, which saddens her.
What are your thoughts on today’s Queer community?
Father Cain reflected on how much the Queer experience differs for older versus newer generations. Back in the day, his generation faced segregation and UK’s Section 28, a former British law that banned the promotion of homosexuality. In contrast, newer generations face a more open society. While barriers and pitfalls still exist, society has changed. Razzaq explained how she did not live through UK’s Section 28, but society still keeps many traditional ways of life. Razzaq noted the number of teachers who do not support Queer students and do not stand with them at local protests. However, Rabbi Ambalu feels that every school and aspect of communities is on a journey to find a healthy balance, sharing that many Queer teachers are teaching her children.
The full event is available for free on YouTube here.
It was a pleasure participating in IP Out’s “Religion & The Experiences of Lesbian and Gay People.” As I attended the panel, the thought about why Canada does not have an initiative or committee like IP Out or IP Inclusive came to mind. Celebrating the incredible Queer talents within the IP legal community would be a fantastic way to celebrate Pride month and offer support throughout the year. The Queer community and other minority communities deserve recognition in the IP legal community, as they bring an open mind, a wealth of knowledge, and much more to the legal community and their clients. By further supporting the Queer community and other minority communities, the IP community and the general legal community can better serve society at large.
Make sure you check out more of IP Out’s events, featurettes, and news at their website!