CBA President Steeves Bujold in conversation with Mx Lee Nevens, Second Vice President of CBABC and SOGIC Committee co-chair.
Marking Access to Justice Week and LGBTQ History Month in Canada with the launch of a new season of Conversations with the President.
In his first episode, CBA President Steeves Bujold welcomes Mx Lee Nevens to talk about ways to improve access to justice and reality, quite simply, for trans and non-binary people in Canada.
Canadian Bar Association - The first comprehensive national study on wellness in the legal profession is published (cba.org)
Mx Lee Nevens
[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]
Steeves: So, hi Lee, how are you?
Lee: I'm good. I'm just recovering from COVID, but doing well other than that.
Steeves: I wish you all the best thank you for being here with us today.
Lee: Thanks for inviting me. I hear it's your first podcast.
Narrator: This is conversations with the President, presented by the Canadian Bar Association.
Steeves: Welcome to this episode of the podcast series Conversations with the President. I'm Steeves Bujold, President of the Canadian Bar Association. And I’m speaking to you from Montreal, situated in the land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples. Including the Haudenosaunee, and Anishinaabe Nations. And I very much acknowledge and thank the diverse Indigenous peoples whose presence marks this territory on which peoples of the world now gather.
When attacks on traditional independence on the rise, and access to justice is in crisis. Becomes increasingly difficult to advance substantive equality.
When equality rights are not fully recognized, this in turn undermines the independence and accessibility of the courts. Thereby creating a vicious cycle.
What can we do to further the public's trust in our justice system? What can we do to help modernise, diversify, and defend the justice system? A closer look at trends and non-binary legal issues sheds light on wider access to justice barriers still very much a problem in Canada.
From straight income inequality, to covert, and overt systemic abuse of gender non-confirming, racialized, and otherwise marginalised groups. First up education, education. And this podcast is part of that process. Whatever your role in it may be, the legal profession is all about difficult and often painful journey from ignorance, and cruelty, to understanding and acceptance.
My guest today Lee Nevens. Long time LGBTQ2S+ community advocate, and a very active CBA member in good standing with the BC branch for many years. So very good-standing that you are currently the second CBA BC Vice President. Congratulations for that important leadership role. And you are into the fifth year as the SOGIC co-chair. So my first question to you, Lee, what originally got you started on your career path in the law?
Lee: Thanks Steeves, and I should mention that I’m joining you from Vancouver which is the unseeded and traditional territory of the Cosalish peoples. And in my case in particular it's the territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. I did not want to be a lawyer. And so I don't have the typical path into law.
I was raised by an artist. Law was not something that was on my radar. I wanted to be an astronaut for quite a long time in a very serious way. And a doctor, and then anything but a lawyer. Because I just had not the best view of what lawyering meant. But eventually I was doing work as a policy analyst for Legal Aid in BC. And I thought that well, I may as well try law school. See how it goes. I seem to have the right skillset, and maybe even if I hate lawyering, maybe at least I can then do policy at a higher level, but for better or for worse I actually liked being a lawyer. And now 10 years later here I am.
Steeves: Congratulations Lee. So we all have our own stories about why we became a lawyer, and it's often not a straight line. Let's use this word. How do you – I'm a cis gender, gay male, my pronouns are he/him. So how do you define who you are?
Lee: I am queen and non-binary, and Trans, and I use they/them pronouns, and the title Mx as you used in my introduction. I'm also agender if I go further into the umbrellas of non-binary, but I've come out as those things at different stages in my life as most people do I think.
Steeves: It's the core of the subject we want to address today. So what are the obstacles you faced when you came out? And what are the obstacles you're still facing today as a very prominent lawyer in your jurisdiction?
Lee: In my case I came out as Trans and non-binary during my career. Which was a different type of challenge than being out during law school. And I talk to a lot of people who are in law school or who are just graduating from law school who are navigating being out in that context. And when I was in law school there were no out Trans people that I was aware of. And I had no role models in my life. Especially non-binary people. I knew some Trans people, I didn’t know any non-binary people.
And so I barely had the language to even express who I was. So it took a little while. To graduate and start lawyering was doubling down on just establishing myself as a lawyer as a lot of people do in those first few years. That can be really intense. But then I started to grow my community of people. Specifically non-binary people who were in the legal profession.
And the sort of through that process and self-reflection that I realised I didn’t need to carry that burden any longer. That there was language and that I could be out. And basically the way my brain works, once I decide something it's instant. So essentially the next day I'm out. And then start this path that I've been currently on this past few years of being as visible, and open as possible. To help change the profession and the legal system.
Steeves: So you will agree with me that there are a lot of challenges and obstacles in the legal profession. For everyone that is part of a marginalised group, so what is the first step? Where should we be going as a community? I'm talking about the legal community. To alleviate, to reduce these barriers. Where should we start in your opinion?
Lee: I think education is still the first step. I think that there's still large swaths of legal community that don't have the basic Trans 101 type of training. And I conduct some of that myself. I know a lot of fantastic people who do it as well.
And it feels slow to be doing a lot of 101 training, but I think that's still an essential part of the work that we need to do. Because there are people who don't know it. Because they don't – often it's people who might not have Trans people in their lives. So they need to learn it from elsewhere.
And I think that's the first step. I think that the vast majority of people, any issues they have are based on a lack of understanding and knowledge rather than actual animus. Although there are people who have specific anti-trans agendas, and hate.
But then we need to go further than that, into the 201. To more substantive education, on the substantive legal issues that face Trans clients that lawyers have. So we need to do get the 101 done, but then we also need to move into the more substantive legal issues as well.
Steeves: We signed the last census in 2021 that there is a growing, fast-growing number of individuals identifying as Trans or non-binary in number in Canada in our population. And our country was the first country to measure that.
So what do you attribute the fact that there are in the generation from 18 to 25 years old it's close to 1%. Which is a pretty substantive number of people. So what do you attribute that number? Is there really more Trans and non-binary people in the younger generation? Or is it like we created the space for these people to express themselves?
Lee: I think it's just a gradual increase in safety and awareness, and the ability to come out, and still have a life. If I look at generations older than me there are vanishingly few people in that generation who are non-binary and Trans, and who are out. We have lost a lot to the AIDS Crisis as well, of our elders in the community.
So that generation is particularly under-represented I think in statistics. But over time we've sort of built back up, and started to create the space, and do the educated needed to hopefully allow more and more people to come out and authentically be themselves.
I don't think it's necessarily a change in humans. It's a change in how we're treating each other. Rather than kind of changing the physiology or biology is changing our demographics.
Steeves: I agree with that, with you Lee. There is I hope a lot of people listening to this podcast and they are not part of our community. How can these people help the Trans and non-binary people if they don't know anyone? And it's a subject that might feel far from their reality. Where should they start? And what can they do concretely to help?
Lee: The first step is for people to do the education like we've talked about. And I think that if people recognize that they have that gap in their knowledge, and their understanding, and seek out education to fill it, I think that first I like this person and I want to meet them. But also I think there is a lot of education out there for people to rake, and to increase their understanding. And also to meet members of the Trans community in our profession.
There are lots of opportunities, and more people who are out. And I think that personal touch can do a lot. As well as reading the writing from Trans and non-binary writers, and just sort of participating more in our culture and starting to understand it a little bit more.
And also various concrete, specific things that people can do. Such as including their pronouns in introductions, and in email signatures, and in introductions in Court. And that creates space, and safety for other people to also provide their pronouns. And it's a bit of a signal that they're aware of this issue, and they're going to try not to rely on assumptions about other people. And not rely on assumptions, or the privilege of correct assumptions in reference to themselves.
So that's important move, but I think allies in general, the best things that they can do in education is to really be led by, and guided by the Trans community itself. And to create space for it. And to create opportunities for leadership for Trans people. To actually make room, and space, support Trans voices to come to the forefront.
Steeves: You made reference to the use of pronouns. So it's something that is well established in British Columbia. You've been one of the first jurisdictions, the legal system to introduce it, and use it. It's not the case in every province. I could say like for Quebec I've never seen it in front of the court, and it's not part of the bylaw, yet.
Court regulation. Could you tell our auditors, our people listening why is this important? And we'll talk about misgendering just after as well.
Lee: Yeah, sort of it's easier to explain it the other way around actually. To talk about the harms of misgendering because it's important to introduce pronouns in order to reduce misgendering.
Misgendering is when you use the wrong language, the wrong gendered language to refer to someone. So like I use they/them. So if you use he/him for me then you'll be misgendering me. Or if you call me Mz. Nevens that's also misgendering me because I use Mx. And misgendering is harmful.
I mean there are studies that demonstrate the psychological harm of ongoing misgendering for Trans people. But it's also signals that we're not included. We're not being accorded equal dignity, and respect, and acknowledgement in the setting that we're in. And when I'm misgendered I don't know. It could be an intentional attack. Misgendering's used as a deliberate attack to try to deny our existence and delegitimize our opportunity to be in that space, even in a court room. Or it might be unintentional, but it's – you don't know in the moment. So you just know immediately that you're kind of removed from that setting. You're not as included as anyone else. And you might even be in danger. And that happening repeatedly to somebody is a real, significant impediment to participating in the profession, or participating in a legal proceeding. If you're in court and that's happening.
So I think the harm is significant. I know people who avoid, or used to avoid Court for example. Because that very public misgendering from authority figures on the record, in front of clients and opposing counsel? That's kind of horrifying, and in most cases you kind of just suck it up and take the hit to your dignity because you want to move on. You want to do your job of handing your submissions in Court. But doing that day in and day out is just not tenable. It's extremely harmful on the mental health of the people who are being misgendered. And we know there's a link between mental health issues and the imperative of diversity, equity and inclusion.
So we need to reduce misgendering. And a big way to do that, one of the first and easiest things we can actually do to reduce that is to introduce pronouns. And everybody introducing pronouns was just sort of an upgrade of the basic standard of professional civility so that we're correctly addressing each other in Court, and in other matters, and letters, or greetings.
Steeves: I'm a big believer of stories, and sharing stories. Would you be generous enough to share an example of a situation where if it happened to you, but unfortunately I'm sure it happened. You've been misgendered, and how it made you feel? So people listening can understand a bit better how important it is, and how painful it is for the person that is the object of the misgendering.
Lee: Usually I do – a slightly anonymized example of this, but I can do the example. An anonymized example is I do a lot of work in fisheries. So I might be in Court doing like amazing submissions on sockeye salmon migration runs. And I'm very focused on that, and the judge may interrupt me as they do, and ask me a question.
And in asking that question say she misgenders me. And I absolutely will definitely notice that I've just been misgendered. And I have literally a split second to decide do I correct that misgendering that's just happened from a judge on the public record, in court, in front of my colleagues who know it's just happened. In front of my client, and opposing counsel, and their clients. And probably the school group that came in to hear my incredibly sockeye salmon submissions. So yeah, I just love it. And so I need to decide.
I have to decide do I pause and actually correct the Judge and risk maybe her being angry, or confused and not knowing what on Earth I'm talking about and then we have to have a little Trans 101 in the middle of the submissions on sockeye salmon? Or do I just suck it up and carry on, and try to refocus on what the question was that she asked me.
Most of the time that's what I'll do and first of all it doesn't feel good. It feels terrible, and afterwards that'll linger with me that that's just happened and my colleagues might talk about it. And we all know what’s just happened. And I'm supposed to be able to be focusing on what I'm in court for.
So it's also really unfair, and can become a career impediment when you're constantly being misgendered in court. Because you're constantly being distracted, and having to make these calls about whether to protect your dignity in this situation, or to let your dignity go and try to carry on with your submissions.
Whichever decision you make, it's never a good one to have to do day in and day out in your career. Whether or not they're a Trans client. So I focus on whether or not their basic human dignity is going to be recognized in court. And if I'm focused on that instead of the criminal matter, or the family matter that they're actually in court for. Whereas the cisgender people in court who are not misgendered don’t have that extra consideration and all their energy, and time, and focus can go towards the legal battle.
Steeves: If we put ourselves in the shoes of the Judge in your example that just did that. And that person is listening to our podcast, what would be advice? When it's done and you notice it, if you don't notice it. Like you can't do anything but if you noticed it, what is the next step? Like what should you do?
Lee: My take on mistakes and I think everybody makes mistakes. Especially on this and I still make mistakes sometimes with friends. And I've even made mistakes by misgendering myself. Especially in the early days and it's like we know behind every – I actually dead named myself. Which is when you use someone's former name instead of their current name. I actually dead named myself in a training once, and I was horrified and apologised to myself for it. Because you get so [unintelligible [00:17:09] and it's really ingrained in our brains.
So it does happen, and it will happen. And it will continue to happen, and it happens to all of us. But when it does happen I think there are two main steps to it, to dealing with a mistake. The first is as soon as possible and as quickly as possible just apologise, acknowledge you made a mistake. Apologise, correct yourself and move on.
And so in the case say of course if a judge misgenders me. Say they say "Mr. Nevens" and the Judge hears herself say that, she can say "Oh, sorry I mean Mx. Nevens." That's it, and move on. Just correct it and move on. Or if you don't catch it in the moment, you can send a quick email or a text or something afterwards just acknowledging the mistake and saying you're going to try to do better.
The second part though, which I think is equally if not more important is the try to do better part. And that can involve taking on more education for yourself. Or working through your practice to try to figure out ways to reduce the chances of your misgendering. So in the case of a Judge perhaps they can write down someone's pronouns and title next to their names if they don't have that on an appearance list. Or Counsel can do that for their colleagues.
Or practice scripts so they're used to using pronouns that maybe are less families. I have friends for example who will read children's books to their kids, but they'll change all the pronouns. Which is good for the kids, although I think the kids are all right, but it's great for the adults too. Just to get used to saying they, them and all kinds of sentences when you're talking about a specific person. And that little shift, getting your mouth used to saying it can start to sort of change those patterns that we sort of unconsciously rely on, and which end up in a lot of misgendering.
Even like me for myself.
Steeves: Lee, another situation on which I would like your advice, as court officers and lawyers when we find ourselves in the situations where there is a refusal from someone. It could be a witness, another party, opposing counsel to acknowledge and use the correct pronouns. So, and there are a great number of possibilities here, but let's take one example. Like what do you think is our role in such a situation where someone is saying my pronouns are they/them and someone else in that discussion, or court hearing is refusing to use the correct pronouns.
Should we intervene? Is it something we should address? Should we be moving on? I would like advice on this.
Lee: In would say it depends on why they're refusing it. Like if it's a mistake that's happening then I think that you should be guided by the person who's being misgendered as to whether or not they would like somebody else to correct those mistakes. Or if instead you should just create an opportunity for them to make a correction if they with. And not everybody wants other people to correct for them.
I love it when people do. So I say go for it, but I know there are people who don't want that. And so the best for inadvertent misgendering is to be guided by the person who is being misgendered. To help them know how best to help them to reduce the harm.
Intentional misgendering by a lawyer, that's professional misconduct. And so I think that is a completely different scenario. And that is something that ought to be dealt with by the law societies.
Steeves: I agree.
Lee: Because that's an attack on the person who is being misgendered, and it's a deliberate one if they know what the correct pronouns are, and are constantly using the wrong ones.
Steeves: Let's talk now about the law itself. So to what extent – it's a big question. To what extent can we use the law to educate? And to which extent the law is itself the problem, and the obstacle that the Trans and non-binary community is facing.
Lee: That is a big question, and there are reports about that. That people should – hopefully will take time to read reports, and information on Trans access to justice and the various ways that the law, and policies, and the legal profession itself, and institutions are impediments to access to justice for Trans people.
There are specific legal issues like that are the subject of change right now. For example the banning of conversion therapy is an important milestone, and change. And that needs to be followed up on provincially. But other broader legal issues like mandatory minimum sentences do disproportionally impact Trans communities and are extremely harmful on Trans people who are incarcerated. And/or accused of crimes. And I missed the last part of your question. It was a big question. I just took a little piece of it.
Steeves: Yes, yes in fact where I wanted to take you is the law part of the problem, and the legal system part of the problem. And as you know there was a recent report ordered and received by Justice Canada addressing that. And there's a few pretty striking sentences in that report. And one is that the legal system is not that much the solution, but is a big part of the problem, the way we're addressing, treating, working with the Trans and non-binary people in Canada. So that's what I wanted to discuss with you. So where's the issue in your opinion? And where are the solutions? Where are the opportunities to improve?
Lee: Yes, I mean the research out of Ontario there that showed up is there are significant problems in the interact with Trans people, with the justice system broadly from a lack of feeling of safety. .Even of going to a court, or a tribunal, or a lack of safety going to a lawyer's office.
And that's paired with increased instances of legal issues for Trans people. And these are the Transforming Justice reports, and Trans pulse surveys that I'm talking about. And some of what we've already talked about can go some of the way towards improving that. For example the legal profession updating itself on its basic professional standards in terms of pronouns, and using correct pronouns for people who come into their office.
And the same thing can be said for all court staff, and everything from the Sheriffs, to the registrars, up to the judges. Ensuring that they are equally acknowledging respecting Trans people including the pronouns that they use, or the titles that they use, and no titles if they don't use them. And then we can go further from that as well in terms of ensuring that we don't have other unconscious bias that's happening. And in terms of say assessing somebody's credibility, or assessing someone for a job. Either case how being aware of, and actively counteracting the bias that may come into those assessments.
For example in terms of how somebody is presenting themselves, their gender expression and what they might be wearing, and what's considered professional, or what's considered a credible way of behaving. Because there are a lot of other factors going into how someone is presenting. Even for witnesses, the background and their experience with the justice system will affect how they're presenting in the justice system. How they might be providing their testimony for example.
Steeves: By the time this podcast will be released, data of the National Survey on the Wellbeing of Lawyers and Other Legal Professionals ordered by the Federation of Law Societies, and the Canadian Bar Association will have been released, and in that report we will notice the LGBTQ community within the legal profession, like other marginalised groups are significantly more impacted by issues of mental health, and also more impacted by the pandemic which we just went through. That we don't know yet if we're out of.
So again your opinion, your vision, or your personal experience. Like and it's even the larger po-pulation. It's not limited to Trans and non-binary community. I think we're focusing here about gay people, lesbians, and bisexual people. They're much more impacted. That's what the data shows in that survey, and it's significant data. So why do you think it's the case?
Lee: I think that the existing inequities across the board were exacerbated over the past few years. And Trans and queer people have a higher rate of poverty for example. And people who are poor have suffered a lot in the past couple of years. More so than people who are rich. And that disparity I think was worsened during the pandemic.
There's also an increase in hate crimes, and anti-Trans rhetoric, and crimes against our communities generally. And that has been I think so much bizarrely paired with conspiracy theorist it seems sometimes. And these – an increase in anti-Trans hate and rhetoric in our public sphere, and that inevitably has an impact on our mental health. Hearing that day in and day out. Even if you yourself are not being personally attacked.
It’s heartbreaking to hear, and I'm somebody, I'm generally I have a lot of privilege. I'm a lawyer. I'm white. I have a very secure employment. So I have a lot of privilege which insulates me from a lot of it. But even around that, it has had a significant impact on me and a negative impact on me to hear what's going on. To be aware of what's going on and to see what's going on tonight with my friends, and my community, and even more broadly internationally. Especially in places like the States.
And that has a personal impact when you hear people denying your existence, or attacking people who are like you. Or claiming that people who are like you don't exist. Or don't deserve rights, or equal access to justice. Or access to safe schools. Or access to washrooms. Or access to sports. Or access to decent clothing. It's very hard to find good clothes. So it's unfortunately I am not surprised at all by that data. I think I've seen it in my own life and I've seen it in my own community. Both inside the legal profession and outside of it.
Steeves: You made reference to anti-Trans movement, and policies, and ideas that we've seen a lot in another country not far from us. But Canada is not immune to that, and we've seen some examples of that recently in Canada. We won't get into the details, but I want to have your view on why it's so that it seems that it – I don't know if the word trigger is the right word, but it – there's a space for that, and it seems that some people think that they're going to gain popularity by targeting the Trans and non-binary population. So do you have a sense of why they have this feeling? And why they're targeting you? Because I feel like there's a secondary reason for that.
Lee: I think they're punching down. They're – it's easier to go after an already marginalised group than to use that as a lever to try to gain power themselves. So it's to9 create another. A boogeyman to – for them to unite against and it's sort of an ongoing populist sort of political approach.
And Trans people are marginalised. And so it's easier to go after us because we don't have the same power or stature as other groups. Yet And so I think that is being used as a political tool, and a social tool to create fear, and to use that fear to gain power for certain elements of society who think that's beneficial for their own interests.
Steeves: Mm-hmm so it's a bit fueling on fear on the unknown right? So we've seen a few trends, and non-binary public figures in Canada and around the world. And thankfully there is more and more, but why do you think there's not more role models?
Lee: Yes, firstly I just wanted to say just one thing about unknown. Is that we're not unknown. We're right here, and I think that people who don't know are intentionally not knowing. They don't want to know us, and in many cases the people who are shovelling this hate do know Trans people. They might have Trans people in their family that they've disowned and kicked out of the home. They might have Trans kids.
And so we're not actually unknown. I think they're using that as a lever to hide us. And to then turn us into a boogeyman. But we're right here, and there's so many of us who are out, and open. And are known in the community, and are active in the community.
I know what your intent was with it, but I just – the law has so many people who are making such great effort to be seen, and known that I think we just have to be careful with the language. Public figure...
Steeves: That's why I invited you Lee. Because you're honest and you don't fear to let me know and let people know what you think of how we address people, what we say. That's how we grow when we don't fear saying what we think. So thank you for that.
Lee: No problem [unintelligible [00:31:16] Public figures, I'm not a great person to ask on that because I don't follow a lot of media. And I – so whenever we have things like name your favourite drag queen I'm always in trouble. Because I just don't. But I would go for some local; non-binary ones just for the record.
But I think there are some real trailblazers in this area of law who aren't necessarily Trans. For example I could not get through this discussion without mentioning Barbara Finlay KC. Who is a legend, and she's an ally. She's queer, but a cisgender woman and f for over four decades has been working in this area. Has faced tremendous pressure and backlash for her support, and activism, and legal work on Trans issues. To try to move that bar. And I think I personally think she's done a huge amount of the work that was necessary to create the space for my generation of lawyers to actually be out. And without her I don't know where would we actually be?
Because she like [unintelligible [00:33:16] Award out of BC as well. Those are well-deserved and she's definitely a mentor for me. But actually I also find if we're talking about role models, and mentors there's all my contemporaries who are all incredible, and fantastic, and doing hard work everywhere and that community within the law and outside of it. But the people that I often look to as the real change makers, and trail blazers are kids. They're the people who have the bravery to come out to their parents, or to try to be out in schools. To even speak to adults who might be spewing anti-Trans hate, and going to schoolboard meetings even and speaking at them. Or it's those everyday acts, and it's going to the building superintendent and saying hey, there's no washroom that's safe for me to use here.
Or correcting pronouns in whatever context you're in. It could be in a restaurant, or it could be saying oh we're not you know, correcting when people say ladies, or guys to a group of people. Those are all little acts that take a lot of bravery, and they're what I think ultimately starts to create the necessary changes. Those personalised acts. So those are the people I look up to. Like I was saying with my coming out, I didn’t have the language to even say who I was when I was in high school for example. I knew queer, but not non-binary. And it's the other people who really developed that language and created that space so that people like me could even say who I am, and start using those words.
Steeves: You used the word queerly, so and it's a personal opinion, but I think we see a multiplicity of identities. So we already have the 2SLGBTQ+ acronym, and we can add more letters, and there is even identities that are not included in these letters, that acronym. So for the allies that are listening some people tell me sometimes that they get lost in all the identities. It seems that we came to a point where there is even one identity for each individual So what would be your advice or comment for the people listening and they're not part of the community, and they feel a bit lost in that multiplicity of identities.
Lee: My biggest advice is to use the language that people use for themselves. And reflect that back with them. And to not make assumptions about what language to use. So when we're talking about pronouns, that one's pretty straightforward. Use the pronouns that people identify for themselves and don't assume which ones they're going to use.
For words like queer, or Trans, or non-binary if someone has used a word in reference to themselves then use that word. But do be careful about what you use because some words are offensive. For example queer is more and more commonly used, and I use it to refer to myself, organisations, some organisations use it in their titles. But it is also still considered a slur, and is a painful, derogatory word that has been used, and harmed many of our community. Especially cisgender gay men.
And so just be careful. But I think what you can do, really what you can rely on rather than specific words, or specific meanings because those are hard to nail down and people use them differently, is to really focus on acknowledgement, and respect. And that's acknowledging and seeing everybody around you, and respecting them by using the correct language. And if you make a mistake then do what we talked about earlier. Just correct yourself respectfully, and learn, and move on. That's what I do as well. Because the evolving language affects me too, and I still, I do get it wrong. And there's more you know words that people use. I think I've used queer before for example in a harmful way and I didn't know I was causing harm by using it as a big umbrella term. But I learned from that, and corrected it, and moved on from that.
And I think it's something we all do in this area of sexual orientation, in attraction, in gender identity and expression. But also in other areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. Where we're all learning together, and if we approach it with respect and acknowledgement then we can hopefully get through any changes that continue in our languages.
Steeves: I agree, there's so much we don't know we don't know. Until we learn that we don't know something.
Lee: And so I'm sounding like Donald Rumsfeld now, because no, no, no.
Steeves: Exactly, I won't repeat the full speech yes, but Lee how would you define queer? I know there's many definitions, and I give a training in which there is a definition, but what's your definition?
Lee: My definition has actually changed over the years. I was administrator of Queer McGill. I'll date myself now. McGill University, when I started it was LGBTM. Yes, so Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Trans McGill.
When I was administrator we changed the title to Queer McGill with the idea being that queer would be an umbrella term for the L, the G, the B and the T. And then, so it would include basically attraction, sexual orientation, and gender and identity within that one big, broad queer term. Then over time the Q got added to the acronym. Because some people within that umbrella didn't identify with the term. And so it became its own word within it.
And now I think it's mostly used as a term for attraction and sexual orientation. And that's generally how I now use it, just as my identity in that regard. I don't use – I've used other words before, but now I find queer is just the best term. The best overall term for me as well, but some people still use it in the big umbrella sense, and some people use it in the more narrow sense of sexual orientation.
Steeves: So you said Trends 201, so what did you mean by that?
Lee: What I mean by that is that there are substantive legal issues that are important for lawyers to be aware of for their Trans clients in most areas of practice in law. And so once you figure out, and learn about pronouns, and how to treat everyone with equal dignity and respect who comes in your door. You also need to know the substantive legal matters so that you can properly serve Trans clients.
So that means being familiar with issues that may arise. For example in family law, or fertility law that are specific to Trans clients. There's all kinds of area of law, immigration law with the issues. And there are great resources out there. My area of law as I mentioned before, fish. Not a lot of Trans issues that are in it. So I mostly operate at a different level, but I think there are fantastic resources out on Trans issues and the law, and articles by academics like Sam Singer, and Florence Ashley, and others who have that knowledge.
And so I think seeking that out, and being aware of that so that you can serve your Trans clients well, in addition to treating them well is critical. And that's the next step after the 101.
Steeves: I agree. There is some data in fact that's the two surveys you made reference to. Trans Pulse Survey, and the other that the community is not trusting the system. And it's mainly due to the fact that the legal actors, judges, lawyers, clerks are not reinforcing the trust relationship that should be in place by not knowing enough about their clients. Or the individuals appearing in front of then the legal issues they're facing, and that are unique to their situation. So I agree with you.
We haven't talked about the law schools and the law societies in Canada. There's a lot going on. There's a lot of good things being done, but what is not being done and should be done in your opinion?
Lee: Most of my knowledge is based out of BC of course. Since this is where I work, but starting with the law schools. I think there's quite a lot they can still do in terms of getting even the Trans 101 that we've been talking about. Like getting that out and ensuring that professors, and staff, and other students are using correct language and pronouns in reference to the students. So that Trans students feel welcome, and safe, and included in those environments. And that's an education that all people including professors who often might not see that they need that. But including professors need that, and they need that substantive knowledge, the 201 that we're talking about as well.
And when they're teaching their courses, so it's not just something reserved on the side for a little ethics class, but it's something that should be integrated throughout the curriculum. Both in terms of using the Trans peoples' examples, and course material, correctly addressing students and substantive legal issues that students need to be learning.
Then there are infrastructure issues. Like ensuring there are bathrooms that are safe and accessible for Trans and non-binary students to access in our facilities, and our libraries, and our washrooms.
And keeping an open dialogue I think. Often organisations might sort of withdraw, and shut down. But they need to keep that dialogue open, and they need to acknowledge that they can learn from their Trans students as well that they have to be open to accepting that feedback.
For law societies, I think our law society here in BC. I think they've started to do some really great work and they have heard that feedback and are starting to upgrade materials for our PLTC which is our bar school in BC, and practice resources. And they've done a lot of work for that. And I think they have that work ongoing. To also help educate the rest of the profession. The students often are the most educated on these issues, but they need to get that education out to all lawyers and encourage it among all lawyers.
But then they're also doing other things like I think this might only be in BC right now, but it's something hopefully other provinces pick up. Like having titles and pronouns. Something that we can add to our lawyer listings, our lawyer lookup on the Law Society website. So that people can look us up and then gender us correctly when they write us a letter, or give us a call.
And making it easier to change our names on the Lawyer Lookup so that we can reduce dead naming of lawyers. Because those dead names, those zombie names as they often are because they will not die. They creep up everywhere. And people – lawyers ought to be able to change that with ease so that they're not dead named professionally.
So I think a lot of different law societies in different places, but also making sure that it's clear that intentional misgendering is professional; misconduct and actually dealing with it in a disciplinary way if something arises that's egregious. They need to be brave, and stand up and like draw that line I think for the Trans communities of basic respect.
Steeves: Great advice Lee, I hope our friends from the Federation of Law Societies are listening. You said a few times that I heard that it's important to include the Trans community and the non-binary community in the discussion, in the room when there's a decision being made. Why is that?
Lee: The decisions are about us. So nothing for us without us almost sounds right at this point, but it is true. It's fundamentally true. If we're going to put resources, and energy towards improving something for a group, that group needs to take the lead. And so if we want to improve access to justice with Trans people for example then we need to talk to Trans communities, diverse Trans communities across the country, not just people who look like me, but everybody across the country. To see what are their priorities, where are they hurting most? And how can we help in that area?
And unless you're a member of that community you don't necessarily see what it is. Just like tons of cisgender people who don't have Trans people in their lives who think there is no transphobia in Canada anymore. Because they just, they can't see it from the perspective of their lives. So you need to go to the people who are experiencing it day in and day out, and be guided by them to figure out how to help them, and then to enable them, or empower them to do the work themselves.
Steeves: Thank you so much Lee for the podcast today, for being here. I learned a lot, and I thank you for your generosity, your courage, your candour, and you're a role model for me. Because you have so much – I can't find the word in English.
Lee: Find it for me in French. [French language [00:47:22]
Steeves: Oh because you're a wise person Lee. Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge with us, and your advice. I think that the people listening learned a lot, and it's an education as you said is a big part of the solution of the problems that we're facing.
Lee: Thanks very much for having me and I look forward to this year of working together with CBA to see what we can get done.
Steeves: We will definitely, thank you.
Narrator: This is Conversations with the President, presented by the Canadian Bar Association.
Narrator 2: If you would like to comment on anything you've heard in this podcast, please contact us directly via CBA.
[End of recorded material [00:48:26]