There is a big difference between tolerating difference and embracing difference
Employment partner David Greenhalgh joined Excello Law in 2020 based in London. Having qualified in 1994, he had an early background in heavyweight litigation, including acting for the families of victims of the Omagh bombing in their successful civil action against the Real IRA; a case that took eight years with David negotiating special funding from the Government and the legal team having close protection during the one-year trial.
Increasingly, however, he specialised in employment, championing those who had been treated badly or needed help to fight for their rights. He is passionate and forthright and someone you would definitely want on your side!
He comments: “Having taken on terrorists early in my legal career, nothing scares me when asserting the rights of employees or defending those of employers, or in going up against any of the big law firms.
“Being gay myself helps me to understand how discrimination can impact others – be it due to age, disability, sex, pregnancy, race, religion or sexual orientation. Having done the job for 27 years acting for both employers and employees, I know all the tactics and strategies others use – nothing phases me!”
He describes a very happy childhood growing up in Cheshire, working on farms to earn extra cash and running a financially lucrative business as a children’s party entertainer. However, school was rife with homophobia and racism and a sense that he didn’t completely fit in without knowing why.
Moving to east London to study law at Queen Mary University, he instantly felt at home and has lived in the area ever since. “I don’t think I was really aware of my sexual orientation at school and didn’t come out until after Uni. Coming out is usually a massive thing for most gay people, especially to families and friends.
“I am completely against people in the public eye being forced to come out by the media. The recent case of actress Rebel Wilson is a prime example. The recent voluntary coming out of various high-profile football, rugby and athletics professionals has been a real game-changer.
“But whilst I came out to family and friends, it didn’t feel safe to do so at work. I think things may be easier now but I am sure there are still many LGBTQ+ employees who are concerned about coming out at work fearing that will impact their future careers.
“Clients, however, don’t care. They hire me because I am an experienced lawyer and they just want to know that I will defend their interests.”
David has set up and managed the employment teams at a number of different firms and has been consistently ranked in Legal 500 for nearly 20 years. “When acting for employers, I am always keen to encourage best practice around diversity and inclusion and I deliver training to help that evolve – including a session on workplace ‘banter’ which I am delivering next week. In previous firms, I have always tried to encourage safe places for those who are different.
“I liked the look of Excello Law because it is diverse in terms of its ownership and that is reflected in the diversity of his partners.”
Becoming a family
Although championing the cause of victims throughout his career, and acting for a number of LGBTQ+ charities, David is honest enough to admit he has a few regrets that he wasn’t out and campaigning for gay rights: “But I am very grateful to those who did as we benefited from the campaigning by others. As soon as we could legally do so, my partner and I entered a civil partnership and looked to legally adopt our first child.”
But that was no easy process, despite the change in the law, as David explains: “It took two years to adopt our first son, who was aged one at the time. Some local authorities rejected us because we were gay and we had a real battle on our hands. Second time around, five years later, the landscape had changed. Both the local authority and the Government now appreciate that gay people represent a massive untapped source of adopters for an ever-increasing number of children needing families.
“Our first son has two older birth siblings who were adopted by another same sex couple. Over the years we have become very close and regularly go on holiday together. We get some interesting looks on campsites where people are clearly trying to work out the relationship between all of us! We regularly meet prospective gay adopters to explain the amazing benefits but also challenges they may face in adopting.”
David believes the importance of Pride month is to highlight how far there still is to go: “Where we live in east London it is brilliantly diverse. At the recent street party our family fitted seamlessly into the rainbow of cultures in our street, but there is real concern that current protections and rights could easily slide which is about to happen in the USA. The loss of the right to abortion will only be the start.
“From my personal experience, and from gay employees I have advised over the years, discrimination in the workplace remains, but is often very subtle and disguised. There is a big difference between tolerating difference and embracing difference. I always say to my employee clients that if you are in a minority, and you are being treated less favourably than others, you have to ask the question; is that because of your difference?”
David has recently joined the advisory panel of https://SafeWork.place. He is using his employment law and personal experiences to further improve the Safe Workplace app, which allows organisations to walk the walk on EDI, safeguarding and wellbeing. It allows HR to provide staff best-in–class support and reporting tools while allowing the organisation to understand where issues may lie and providing the tools to manage those issues effectively.
As we ended our interview and started talking of summer holidays, David made a comment that stopped me in my tracks and highlights just how important the fight for equality is: “When we book a holiday abroad, one of our first reference points is to check if it’s legal to be gay in the country we’re hoping to visit?”
For those of us planning our summer break – with maybe our biggest worry about the current flight chaos – that is a sobering thought.
By Lesley Potter, Chief Marketing Officer
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