NAWJ 2023 Pride Webinar

Written by National Association of Women Judges|July 31, 2023|News

By:  Judge Ann Breen-Greco

On June 30, 2023, the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) LGBTQ Committee presented a PRIDE webinar,  with cosponsors NAWJ Judicial Education Committee, the American Bar Association (ABA) Judicial Division and the ABA Sexual Orientation Gender Identity  (SOGI) Commission.  Program Moderator Hon. Ann Breen-Greco opened the program.  Hon. Toni Clarke, NAWJ President, welcomed the attendees and expressed appreciation to the panelists for their participation.  Opening remarks were given by Chair of the ABA’s SOGI Commission,  Hon. Benes Z. Aldana (ret.), Hon. Ernestine Gray (ret. Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, Louisiana), Chair of ABA’s Judicial Division, and Hon. Marian Perkins, Chair of the NAWJ Judicial Education Committee. 

Judge Aldana stated he shared in our sense of pride and joy as we commemorate the last day of Pride Month through this webinar. However, he recognized “that it is a bittersweet moment, echoing the sentiments expressed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissenting opinion. The recent Supreme Court decision allowing businesses to discriminate against gay people is undoubtedly a ‘sad day’ for the lives of LGBT individuals. Nonetheless, Pride Month  is a time to honor the brave souls who blazed a trail, dedicating themselves to the fight for equality and fearlessly embracing their true selves despite adversity. It is a moment to remember those who tragically lost their lives due to hate and discrimination.”

The distinguished panelists were:

  • Cynthia Cheng-Wun Weaver, Senior Director of Litigation, Human Rights Campaign Foundation
  • Hon. Vickie Henry, Associate Justice, Massachusetts Appeals Court
  • Jon Harris Maurer, Public Policy Director, Equality Florida
  • Jodi Cleesattle, Senior Assistant Attorney General, California Department of Justice
  • Kyler Broadus, Pioneer, Transgender Male, Civil Rights Attorney, Activist, ABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Commissioner

Jon Harris Maurer gave an update from the front lines of a grueling state legislative session that saw numerous bills targeting the LGBTQ community and particularly transgender Floridians in doctors’ offices, schools, and places of work.  At least two such recently enacted laws have already been enjoined over their likely unconstitutionality.

Cynthia Cheng-Wun Weaver noted that public support for LGBTQ+ equality has grown steadily over the years, including support for the Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in a variety of areas of life.  Despite this support, our community is living in a state of emergency, with 500+ anti-LGBTQ+ laws introduced this year intended to harm and erase us from public life.  The Human Rights Campaign (HRC)  has published a comprehensive guidebook as a resource for those who must stay or travel to places with these laws, or who are left with no choice but to uproot their families and start a new life.  At the end of day, we are talking about individuals who simply want what the person next to them wants—people who want to laugh, create memories with their loved ones, be healthy, learn about the world, and live with dignity and respect.  Progress is time-consuming and exhausting, “but we'll all get there, together."

Kyler Broadus spoke of his experience as  a transgender male who is also African-American,  throughout a time when there were few resources. He urged that allies stand with the LGBTQ community and ensure that they will be steadfast in their support.

Judge Vickie Henry emphasized the touchstone of respect, inside and outside the courtroom.  The use of gender-neutral language respects the dignity of a person, until they have had the chance to disclose more about their gender identity, pronouns, or personal life.  In court, that typically means referring to someone by their role, such as Juror Smith or Bailiff Brown rather than Mr./Mrs./Ms.  However, if a party tells you the name or pronouns by which they wish to be referred, generally you should use that name or those pronouns.  You wouldn't insist on calling someone Maggie when they have introduced themselves as Margaret.  Similarly, why would you refer to someone as "he" when they have introduced themselves as "she?"  If you are unsure, avoid making assumptions.  An easy way to ask someone's pronouns is to offer yours.  For example, say "My name is Judge __ and I use she/her (or he/him or they/them) pronouns.  How shall I address you?"

A number of courts have adopted or proposed court rules inviting parties or attorneys to share their pronouns or addressing pronouns in jury instructions:

Alaska's Criminal Pattern Jury Instructions and Civil Pattern Jury Instructions
Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:08
Michigan's Proposed Rule 1.09
Utah's Notice of Pronoun Forms
Washington's Rule on Personal Pronouns

Parents have their own concerns and may be helped by these resources. 

Jodi Cleesattle provided an overview of key definitions relating to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, as well as information about the increasing numbers of adults – particularly young adults – identifying or who know someone who identifies as transgender or nonbinary.

She discussed the importance of treating everyone who appears in court with respect and dignity, including by addressing them with the correct pronouns, titles and names. She suggested that judges get in the habit of stating their own pronouns when introducing themselves, invite parties to state their pronouns, use gender-neutral titles (such as Attorney instead of Mr. or Ms.) when possible, and put a space for pronouns and honorifics on court forms or check-in sheets.

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