House of Delegates

Pronouns should be respected and trans youths protected

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At the ABA Annual Meeting, the House of Delegates adopted a pair of resolutions to address ongoing challenges faced by the LGBTQ community.

Resolution 604, which was submitted by the ABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, encourages the use of pronouns and other language that is consistent with a person’s gender identity in law schools, the bar admissions process, the legal profession and the justice system.

It also asks law schools and bar admissions authorities to include optional fields for the self-reporting of gender-inclusive pronouns, honorifics, salutations and titles in applications and other submission forms.

Collins Saint, the director of diversity, equity and inclusion for personnel and policy for the ABA Young Lawyers Division, told the House about receiving a call from a recent bar exam test-taker who was in tears—and it wasn’t because that person didn’t pass the bar.

“It was because the letter they received had the wrong honorific in front of their name,” Saint said. “They are transgender, and no one at the board of law examiners asked them what honorific they used. Instead, the board assumed their honorific based on the sex that was designated on their bar certificate. This bar taker did not post their letter on social media; they did not share their letter with anyone because it did not reflect who they were.”

Saint added: “They were made to feel like they did not belong here, excluded simply by virtue of who they are. And that is not what we stand for here in the ABA.”

Resolution 604, which passed overwhelmingly, was co-sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division.

It furthers a measure that the House adopted in 2021 urging the use of pronouns consistent with a person’s gender identity in the legal profession and justice system. It also encourages judiciaries to establish rules that respect the use of pronouns consistent with a person’s gender identity.

Also in 2021, the ABA amended its constitution, bylaws and rules of procedure of the House, replacing “his or her” and similar gender binary language with gender nonbinary language, such as the singular “their,” “them” and “they.” The Young Lawyers Division had, a year earlier, amended its bylaws to include gender nonbinary pronouns.

Anti-trans legislation

The House also overwhelmingly passed Resolution 606, which urges governments to oppose or repeal laws and policies that target transgender youths and adults.

In 2023, lawmakers in 45 states proposed nearly 500 bills that discriminate against trans people, and in particular, trans youths, according to the report that accompanies the resolution. These bills include those that prevent trans people from accessing gender-affirming health care; using restrooms in line with their gender identity; and changing gender markers on their birth certificates.

The Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity submitted this resolution.

Rafael Langer-Osuna, a partner at Squire Patton Boggs in San Francisco and co-chair of the board of the National Trans Bar Association, spoke in favor of the resolution.

“I couldn’t possibly describe to you in the time I have all the reasons why the anti-trans legislation wave that has occurred in 2023 is wrong,” Langer-Osuna said. “The hundreds—hundreds—of anti-trans bills and executive actions [that have been proposed] in 2023 have a dramatic impact on the trans community.”

Mary Kelly Persyn, vice president of legal affairs for the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, spoke in favor of Resolution 606 as a children’s rights advocate and the mother of a trans child.

“I stand here today to emphasize and underline for you from my experience the very heavy burden on trans youth of these laws and policies,” Persyn said, adding that these youths are already vulnerable. “The toxicity of these laws affect trans youth … in every corner of our country.”

The ABA has long supported the protection of trans rights. Among its other initiatives, the House adopted a resolution in 2020 that opposes all legislation, regulations and policies that discriminate against people who are transgender or nonbinary on the basis of gender identity or that impose barriers to obtaining or providing medical care to affirm the gender identities of those people.

In 2021, delegates also adopted a resolution that opposes all legislation, regulations or policies that prohibit transgender students from participating in athletics in line with their gender identity.

This story was originally published in the October-November 2023 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Gender Guidance: Pronouns should be respected and trans youths protected.”

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