For Women in Law By Women in Law

In a World Where You can be You – Further Thoughts on Gender Inclusive Language and Pronouns

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If you are new to the Dear LiL blog, I have authored two articles on the subject of pronouns and gender-inclusive language in the office  (ICYMI you can read them here and here). The TLDR version: providing people with dignity and respect by using their correct titles and pronouns contributes to a safer space leading to greater inclusivity and assures equal access for everyone. Almost one year to the date of my first post on this subject, and the conversation is as relevant now as it has ever been before.

The Law Society of British Columbia is coming up on its Annual General Meeting, scheduled to take place in a few short weeks. One of the resolutions being proposed at the AGM is a resolution to solicit the membership’s commitment to open debate regarding pronoun usage in the court room. Effectively, the resolution seeks to peel back the option for a litigant to provide their pronouns to the court on the basis it flirts with compelled speech in court, risks privacy breaches, and exposes itself to accusations of favoring one side in intense socio-political debates.

This resolution comes in response to a practice directive released by the courts earlier this year. That practice directive encouraged counsel to advise the court of their title and pronouns at the outset of their court appearance.

If you are a fan and consistent reader of the Dear LiL Blog – you will know LiL’s mandate supports the practice directive which aims to provide a common sense solution to the chronic problem of misgendering trans and non‑binary court participants. Further, and in light of the pandemic, the legal profession has quickly shifted many of its procedures to phone hearings which presents increased potential to misgender someone based solely on their voice. Additionally, many court participants have names traditionally associated with male and female genders or names not commonly recognized by unilingual English speakers.

All in all – LiL finds the new practice directive as a welcome solution to the Court’s historic difficulties on how to implement more gender inclusive language to all litigants, not just lawyers.  It provides a simple and easy way to ensure that all people who appear in Court, including those from the transgender, gender-diverse and non-binary communities, are treated with a basic level of respect, civility and professional courtesy.

However, not all are in favor of this new practice directive which has recently come under scrutiny from several lawyers and has ultimately led to the proposed resolution. One proponent of the resolution (which you can read in full, here), Shahdin Farsai, describes the practice directive as compelled speech that raises privacy issues for litigants who are asked to make their gender identity public. She also raises concerns about judicial partiality. You can read more about her position by reading her article on the matter here.

While any lawyer can appreciate a healthy or even heated discourse, LiL wishes to affirm the existence and rights of our transgender, gender-diverse and non-binary colleagues which are not subject to debate. The LiL team encourages all of you to consider the real-life consequences of approving this resolution.

LSBC members may vote via advance online voting until October 4, 2021, or may register to attend and vote virtually or in person at the AGM on October 5, 2021.

About the Author

Jaeda Lee is an associate at Harper Grey LLP practicing in insurance and health law. An avid volunteer, Jaeda gives much of her time to the ACTS Water Charity, an organization focused on providing clean, accessible water to those who need it most.

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