LeGaL pushes courts to ask about LGBTQ status(es) on biennial New York attorney registration forms

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The LGBT Bar Association of New York (“LeGaL”) is pushing for the New York Office of Courts Administration to start asking about LGBTQ status(es) on biennial New York attorney registration forms.

The proposed Amendment to the Optional Demographic Questionnaire originated with the Failla Commission. The addition of gender identity and sexual orientation to the Questionnaire creates the opportunity to develop statistics that will showcase the amount of self-identified LGBTQ people that currently work in New York’s legal system.

Visibility is a catalyst for societal change. These statistics will highlight which people within the LGBTQ are the least represented and therefore more at risk of being discriminated against and/or feeling as though their identities are not valued in the New York’s court system. Factual evidence detailing the identities of New York’s attorneys will aid the Commission and the Unified Court System in their endeavors to create a more equal and inclusive legal sphere in New York. Considering that the New York State Bar Association’s report entitled “Judicial Diversity: A Work in Progress,” spoke on the State Bar’s dedication to LGBTQ equality, it would only make sense that statistics are made available for analysis and application.

By building up a database of statistics overtime, advocates will better be able to hold the Commission and the Unified Court System accountable for continuing the fight for equity within New York’s community of attorneys. The current lack of data deprives activists of the ability to use factual information to effectively reason with people of political influence and individuals who can appoint judges to judicial positions. This provides barriers to representation and should be seen as a major concern by the Commission and the Unified Court System. Accountability provides the momentum that is needed to amend systems of power so they may better cater to the reality of the modern day. LGBTQ lives have been an unrecognized reality for far too long and it is time to recognize them, especially now that the Legislature has passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act.

It is essential that we equate gender identity and sexual orientation with other, sometimes more visible, identities that are already recognized on the Optional Demographic Questionnaire. Our gender identities and sexual orientations are a part of who we are and we must legitimize the experiences of those who do not fall into hegemonic categories of identity. It has long been known that there is far more to gender identity than checking off “male” or “female” on a piece of paper. The significance of acknowledging the existence of transgender, non-binary, and intersex individuals cannot go without great attention.

When the Commission and Unified Court Systems let the gender-diverse attorneys of New York know that they are just as valid as those who identify as cisgender men and women, a social climate is created that grants all individuals the opportunity to be their truest form of self. Additionally, it must be recognized that while sexual orientation is often a non-visible identity, systems of heteronormativity still have real-life consequences. When attorneys are unable to identify their sexual orientation, heteronormativity remains prevalent and erases the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer attorneys. This can be damaging to the experiences that lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer people have when trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

If one cannot see one’s identity on a demographic questionnaire, we cannot expect that person to feel comfortable sharing it with colleagues. This inherently makes LGBTQ people feel as though their gender identity and sexual orientation must be kept separate from their place of employment. The culture of individuals suppressing basic aspects of their humanity is emotionally taxing and should be seen as unacceptable in any environment. The proposed amendment would not only provide reliable statistics that can be used for better assisting at- risk communities within the legal sphere, but it would also help in eradicating the stigma surrounding LGBTQ diversity that still permeates into the everyday lives of individuals today.

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LeGaL is one of the nation’s first bar associations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) legal community and remains one of the largest and most active organizations of its kind in the country. LeGaL is dedicated to improving the administration of the law, ensuring full equality for the members of the LGBT community, promoting the expertise and advancement of LGBT legal professionals, and serving the larger community, including through its Helpline and free walk-in legal clinics, as well through direct representation and impact litigation.

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