Respecting pronouns is a professional responsibility

posted on January 13, 2021

January 8, 2021

By , National Magazine

Pronouns matter. It is why we should welcome the announcement, in December 2020, by the Provincial Court of British Columbia that there will be a change in how parties and lawyers should introduce themselves in court.

“Providing a forum of justice that is impartial, fair, consistent, and assures equal access for everyone is part of the mission of the Provincial Court of British Columbia,” its notice read. “According people dignity and respect by using their correct titles and pronouns is one aspect of such a forum.”

The notice goes on to say: “Using incorrect gendered language for a party or lawyer in court can cause uncomfortable tension and distract them from the proceedings that all participants should be free to concentrate on.”

The court also expressed its hope that the measure “will contribute to a culture that is inclusive and respectful of everyone.”
Many on Canadian #LawTwitter and in the legal community rightfully welcomed this change. As a cisgender Black queer femme lawyer, this was also significant to me.
Indeed, while the use of pronouns is not new in many spaces, it is novel in the legal community and in legal workplaces.

Unfortunately, I have heard many accounts from lawyers, articling students and law students who have been misgendered, or whose colleagues have refused to include their pronouns on their email signatures. They have had to engage with many in the legal community, including judges and law professors, who do not adequately understand the harm that misgendering someone has on our colleagues, our clients, and others we encounter in law practice, whether in the classroom, virtual courtroom or in real life.

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