How a Canadian court system officially ended misgendering in the courtroom

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4/16/21

For trans people, navigating the judicial system can feel daunting at the best of times, and unsafe at worst. If you have to present in court, how can you be sure your identity will be respected? Courts in British Columbia are enacting changes to ensure trans inclusion—and ending misgendering—within the judicial system is a reality. On Dec. 16, 2020, the B.C. courts issued a letter from Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie setting the legal precedent that all identities must be respected in courtrooms province-wide. Now, when proceedings begin in courtrooms, lawyers or individuals introducing either themselves or a third party to the court will be directed to give their name, their honorifics and their pronouns, which will be used for the duration of proceedings—cementing protocol that for all parties present in the courtroom, lawyers and litigants alike, all lived identities must be recognized and protected. While the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community (SOGIC) section of the Canadian Bar Association B.C. branch has been working to educate about and advocate for trans and gender-diverse lawyers and legal professionals, this directive came to them from the court. It was prompted by informal discussions, led by LGBTQ2S+ lawyers, about how their needs were not being met in courtrooms. The courts used these conversations to begin drafting a directive in response to what they were hearing from SOGIC members, and sent a draft of a proposed plan to the SOGIC committee for consultation. “[The courts] had a draft of the directive, and came to ask for feedback on it,” says Lisa Nevens, a Vancouver-based non-binary civil litigator and co-chair of the SOGIC comittee. “We were really excited to see that the court was moving in that direction, and we provided some feedback to them, based on the best practices that we know.” The move came a year after the B.C. court of appeal—post-consultation with the SOGIC committee—brought in a new directive that would allow counsel to use “Mx.,” or simply “Counsel,” in place of the limited binary of “Mr.” and “Mrs.” It’s a step taken after years of informal education from an increasing number of trans lawyers. “These things have added to the momentum toward a more trans-inclusive justice system, of which the court’s new practice directions are an important part,” Levens says. After LGBTQ2S+ lawyers have spent years fighting to be seen, the courts are finally beginning to officially catch up.

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