SOGIC gives judges a language lesson

  • May 13, 2019

Language is continually evolving, and never more so than when it comes to describing sex and gender in all its beautiful permutations.

What used to be LGBT has become LGBTQ2SI, and if that looks like alphabet soup to you, then you’re probably cis-gendered (meaning your sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with your birth sex and you haven’t had to navigate a world you don’t easily fit into gender-wise).

You can be forgiven for not immediately knowing what it all means, but not for failing to learn, especially if you’re a judge on a bench adjudicating cases involving people with all those permutations.

That’s why executive members of the CBA’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community recently walked federal judges and law clerks through some do’s and don’ts, a presentation organized in collaboration with the CBA Judges Section Education Committee as part of its lunch and learn sessions.

Frances Mahon, a civil rights lawyer from Vancouver, former SOGIC Chair Frank Durnford, an in-house counsel in Vancouver, and Nicole Nussbaum, also a former SOGIC Chair who is a legal aid lawyer practising family law in London, Ont., gave the presentation at the Federal Court in Ottawa.

First, they explained the alphabet:

L = Lesbian

G = Gay

B = Bisexual

T = Trans, including transgender or transsexual

Q = Queer, or questioning

2S = Two-spirited, refers to individuals who have both male and female spirits within some Indigenous communities

I = Intersex, refers to a variety of conditions where reproductive or sexual anatomy develops as something other than typically male or female.

Next they explained what the different terms mean – the differences between sex and gender, between gender identity and expression and sexual orientation, for example. They also explained the difference between social transition – expressing your gender identity in authentic way – and medical transition, which alters primary or secondary sex characteristics through hormone therapy or surgical intervention.

Part of the presentation focused on the experiences of trans people in the justice system – 71 per cent of the respondents to the Transforming Justice survey report that they’d had at least one justiciable legal problem between 2013 and 2016, and 18 per cent reported having five or more issues in the same period.

The presenters told the judges they could help make the courtroom a more welcoming place for trans people in small but important ways: for example, using the names the person and their lawyer use, even if it’s not their official name; using the pronoun the person and their lawyer are using; not making assumptions about the person’s gender or sexual identity based on their ID or appearance.