It’s Pride Month

By: Vanessa Francone

June is pride month and people all over the world are celebrating the progress being made towards equality.

The Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ) is dedicated towards diversity. To recognize Pride, below are stories from LIZ community members that are making influential strides in the LGBTQ+ community. Also, read tips on how to celebrate pride, inclusivity and diversity within your company.

Lisa Durnford @ Diligen

Lisa Durnford, VP of Product Development at Diligen, came out in law school and was encouraged to attend LGBTQ events right away from her peers. One of the organizations who hosted events was Start Proud, Canada’s largest non-profit that acts as a networking and mentorship organization for LGBTQ+ identified students looking to get into professional career paths. “You can leave the stress of dodging personal questions at the door because it’s such an open LGBT-supportive community, leaving you to focus on professional networking,” said Durnford.

Lisa Durnford at Pride celebrations in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

She said Start Proud and other organizations help people feel comfortable and safe in an otherwise stressful or unsure situation. “It’s important to have these different areas where you can find explicit all-encompassing acceptance and support that can just make you relax.” After five years of attending Start Proud events, she felt she needed to give back. She is now a Law Associate on the sponsorship team for the organization, recruiting and supporting legal sponsor relationships. Diligen is also a sponsor of Venture Out, a branch off of Start Proud and a conference for LGBTQA+ inclusion in tech and entrepreneurship.

André Bacchus @ Law Practice Program

André Bacchus and his partner of 15 years, Antonio Pendones.

The Law Practice Program (LPP), an innovative alternative to traditional articling and our sister organization, is also a sponsor of Start Proud through the Out on Bay Street conference to demonstrate their support of the LGBTQ community. According to LPP Assistant Director André Bacchus, they joined as a sponsor to help break down barriers in the community. “Within the legal community…you have to take responsibility and you have to make a point of supporting the efforts and help pave the way,” said Bacchus.

The LPP will host a workshop on how to create opportunities and better network, showing the community all the viable options available to them. Events like the ones Start Proud hosts help professional people come forward. “It also gives them an opportunity to see those who are already out and that you can still be successful in your career,” he said. The more visibility, the better for the community.

Lesha Van Der Bij @ Codify Legal Publishing

Lesha Van Der Bij at the Legal Innovation Zone.

Lesha Van Der Bij, VP Strategy at Codify Legal Publishing, has seen some changes in the last 20 years within the LGBTQ+ community.

In 1996, she, along with her friend Lisa Hayes, organized and founded the first ever Dyke March in Toronto after attending New York’s in 1995. “It changed me as a person,” said Lesha of that day.

But after attending Toronto’s Pride the following weekend, it didn’t live up to her expectation because there were very few women involved in the parade. “There was nobody there that really looked like me and I found it incredibly disappointing.” She knew she wanted to do something.

Van Der Bij and Hayes got a permit and ran the event with about 1000 women attending that first year on Sherbourne Street in the pouring rain. “The big thing for me was increasing visibility, creating a safe space for women and promoting the profile of lesbians within the gay community,” she said.

What started off as a protest of sorts is now just an accepted and expected part of Pride. 2017 marks the 21st year of the Dyke March.

Lesha Van Der Bij at the first ever Dyke March in 1996.

Celebrating Pride in Your Company

Even if you don’t identify as an LGBTQ+ person, there are many things one can do as a co-worker or founder to help your team celebrate pride.

Durnford suggests little things —like having Pride flags around the office or windows. “It definitely puts people at ease and makes them feel a little more comfortable.” But she says it also extends to having conversations and listening to people, which can also help businesses make the most well-rounded product.

“It’s easy for people to develop and brainstorm ideas based on how they’ve experienced the world…You can only successfully design a product that everyone can relate to if you listen and consider the perspectives of a diverse group of people.”

Van Der Bij agrees. After all, one of the best things a CEO can do is foster a safe and supportive community where everyone can be themselves without worry of discrimination. “As you get to know people…that’s what really diminishes homophobia,” she said. “People become more familiar and put aside their stereotypes and that just comes from day to day.”

Bacchus added that in the last 15 years, people have grown more open and willing to talk about Pride and the community. “People are making an effort to support what’s out there…That dialogue helps to normalize it,” he said.

It seems that having conversations is one of the obvious solutions to creating more diversity and inclusivity within a workplace. To listen and hear people is the best thing, while also encouraging others to be out and proud. And ultimately, to be yourself.