Meet the lawyer championing LGBTQ+ research at Cambridge

Daniel Gerring (Corpus 1996)

Professional headshot of Daniel Gerring

Daniel Gerring is Partner and Head of Pensions at leading law firm Travers Smith. Senior Champion of LGBTQ+ inclusion, he was instrumental in shaping the firm's support of lgbtQ@cam, a programme launched in 2018 to promote research, outreach and network-building related to queer, trans and sexuality studies.

Here, he tells us about his time at Cambridge, how he sees things having changed for LGBTQ+ people and why supporting LGBTQ+ research is important to him.

Before arriving at Cambridge in 1996 I had images of it being full of openly LGBTQ+ people, confident and comfortable with their own identities. It was not. Or at least that was not my experience. There was still some open homophobia, as well as a load of 'get a sense of humour' banter about being gay. Equally though, I didn’t feel massively uncomfortable, everything being relative — it was just not much better than the comprehensive school I'd been studying at before.  

There wasn’t much going on in the way of LGBTQ+ stuff. I think most people still felt quite inhibited and a lot of my friends didn’t come out until their third or fourth year, or only after they left. The work of lgbtQ+@cam has shown that, nowadays, there are more openly out people in Cambridge, as well as more dialogue around LGBTQ+ issues. This is particularly the case, compared to the late '90s I think, on trans inclusion. To think that we would have encouraged people to state their pronouns on name badges, letter or emails when I was at Cambridge is inconceivable. Trans or gender non-conforming identities, at that time, were barely on the radar.   

I know that there remains a lot of work to do on LGBTQ+ inclusion in Cambridge, as in all institutions. But there is a lot to celebrate too. One small example: I happened to be in Cambridge on 1 February this year. Walking through the city with a friend, I was genuinely moved by the sea of rainbow flags which had been put up earlier that morning by College after College, to mark the beginning of LGBT History Month. The contrast to my time at the University was marked in the extreme.

I chair the trustee board of an LGBTQ+ youth charity called ‘Just Like Us’. The charity trains young LGBTQ+ people to deliver talks and workshops in schools that champion LGBTQ+ equality and challenge prejudice. They are encouraged to draw on their own experiences and stories. We also run a mentoring scheme for the ambassadors to help them transition from college and university to employment. I feel this is particularly important, not least as I was staggered to read a piece of research which estimated that as many as 62% of graduates go back into the closet when they first enter the workplace. 

LGBTQ+ research is extremely important. As well as Cambridge being the place I studied, I was driven to support lgbtQ+@cam because Cambridge has a privileged status as a world-renowned research institution. LGBTQ+ research is an area that has been largely overlooked to date and to have such a prestigious institution championing it and investing in it will really leverage the effect of that research. My hope is that this will inspire other academic institutions to do more in due course, as well as creating a body of research which will help support respectful discussion in the LGBTQ+ community.

Travers Smith went from being one of the lowest ranking law firms in Stonewall's Top 100 Employers to ranking 12th out of all employers in 2020. We’ve made a lot of changes — big and small from introducing paid surrogacy leave to pronouns on our communications to large-scale events and significant sponsorship.  But, most importantly, we have taken the time to promote respectful discussion, valuing a range of views and driving change in an inclusive and sincere way.  As a result, Travers Smith’s commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion, and diversity and inclusion more broadly, is genuinely central to our core values and vision.  For that reason, there is a real enthusiasm within our leadership team and throughout the organisation for Travers Smith being the first corporate supporter of the lgbtQ+@cam programme, in the form of our PhD bursary.  This has been awarded to Elizabeth Sandler, a fantastic researcher and teacher.  I hope very much that other business and individual donors will add their backing in short order. 

Every year I still get asked 'why isn't there a straight history month' (and 'why not a straight Pride')?  As a Cambridge history graduate, this is a subject I've reflected on a lot. Of course, the answer is that there is no straight history month because most histories have been (and still are) written from a heterosexual perspective. LGBTQ+ people have largely been erased or diminished from historical narratives. This month is a chance to redress the balance a little and re-examine and reflect on LGBTQ+ history; not only to celebrate what has happened in the past, but also to help inspire the future of LGBTQ+ inclusion and activism.  I am truly proud to be partnering so actively with the University at this time.

Daniel Gerring is Partner and Head of Pensions at leading law firm Travers Smith. He has been highly ranked in OUTstanding’s worldwide 100 LGBTQ+ Executives List for the last four years running and sits on Travers Smith's Diversity and Inclusion board.

lgbtQ+@cam website

Just Like Us website

Daniel Gerring's professional page