News and Analysis

Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012 9:06 p.m.

Law students get educated on working with transgender clients

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Lauren Grady.

For Rachel See, a flub as simple as a colleague using the wrong pronoun can be enough to tax the transgender woman emotionally.

That’s why See, the lead technology counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, tutored GW Law School students Wednesday about working with transgender clients, emphasizing the importance of dismissing stigmas and myths that are commonly used to describe transgender people.

“Transgender folks are people and they deserve respect,” she said.

Alison Gill, government affairs director for The Trevor Project, helped teach law students Wednesday some basic tips on working with transgender clients. Margaret Rajic | Hatchet Photographer

The workshop was part of National Pro Bono Week, which is spent educating students on volunteer law service.

Desiree Woods, co-president of the LGBT-focused student organization Lambda Law, said leaders in the school’s Pro Bono Program approached her about helping law students overcome the lack of information about working with transgender clients.

“There are no classes in the law school that teach about this. It’s an issue that’s never really been dealt with,” Woods said.

See, along with Alison Gill of The Trevor Project, stuck to the basics about working with transgender clients when speaking to the roughly 15 students who attended.

The two trans women, who are also volunteers at TransLAW, explained the differences between the gray areas in gender and sexuality that often seems blurry to budding lawyers.

They went through slides explaining “birth sex” – the sex assigned at birth – and “gender identity” – a person’s internal sense of gender – pointing to the importance of recognizing the difference between the two when dealing with clients.

Transgender people disproportionately face employment discrimination that hurt their ability to find jobs. It they can find a job, they often face harassment and discrimination in the work place.

As a former lawyer, Gill said she faced discrimination in her career. She was forced into a part-time position and eventually found herself forced out of the job.

When transgender clients come to lawyers and law students with similar issues, See encouraged students to be open and honest so that they can address clients in the way that they want to be addressed.

“I think that transgender issues will continue to increase. It would be beneficial for lawyers to know more about the issue,” said Gill.

  • Rachel See

    Thanks for writing about our presentation.

    Just to clarify, my co-workers at the National Labor Relations Board have been extremely supportive of me in my gender transition, I have been humbled by the outpouring of support they have shown me. They almost never get my name and pronouns wrong, and the few times someone has slipped up, it hasn’t bothered me because I have been confident it’s been an unintentional slip-up.

    Towards the end of our presentation, I recounted an incident during which the receptionist in my endocrinologist’s office loudly misgendered me in front of a crowded waiting room. This bothered me, because the staff of a medical provider specifically providing transgender-related health care should have known better or received better training, and by flubbing it in that way, the receptionist outed me as transgender against my will (which was a disclosure of my private health information).

    I told that story to drive home the point that those seeking to provide services to transgender clients need to be aware of name and gender issues, and that getting it wrong could result in the unwitting disclosure of client confidences or protected health information.

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