States. Using data collected between November 2011 and October 2012, the study found that referring to individuals by their preferred names and pronouns appeared to affirm their gender identities, which had a direct impact on the mental health of the participants. Specifically, the study determined that merely referring to the participants by their preferred names and pronouns significantly reduced depres- sive symptoms and suicidal ideation and behaviors among the individuals, even when the data was adjusted for personal characteristics and total social support differences among the participants. See Russell T. Stephen et al., Chosen Name Use Is Linked to Reduced Depressive Symptoms, Suicidal Ideation, and Suicidal Behavior Among Transgender Youth , 63 Journal of Adolescent Health 503–505 (2018). Making changes such as asking indi- viduals about their preferred pronouns may be awkward at first. And, let’s be honest, many of us are not huge fans of mandatory training. However, in time, studies reveal that these efforts are effective at bridging the gap between the LGBTQ+ and legal communities. It may not be easy, and mistakes will likely be made along the way. But if our shared goal is a more equal and just legal system, it is worth it.
and judges give disapproving looks and even laugh when transgender defendants approach the bench. I have yet to witness a judge ask a defendant for their preferred pronouns, but I have observed court per- sonnel disregard requests by defendants and others that they be referred to by a different name or different pronouns. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people in the prison and jail systems is rampant. Abuse occurs not only to those serving prison sentences but also to those who are being held in custody as their cases remain pend- ing. Incarcerated LGBTQ+ individuals report being harassed by inmates and prison personnel. They are frequently called names, physically abused, and sexually assaulted. Studies show that transgender individuals are at even greater risk for maltreatment. In many custodial settings, transgender women are prohibited from wearing makeup or having long hair, and they are sometimes prevented from taking hormone supplements even in cases where they had been taking the supplements prior to incarceration. Given the mistreatment suffered by LGBTQ+ people in their interactions with police, courtroom personnel, and the prison system, it is no surprise that these individuals view the criminal justice system with distrust, anxiety, and fear. Sometimes the maltreatment is or may be inadvertent. Other times, it is clearly purposeful. Either way, the abuse is undeniable. If we want our legal system to give LGBTQ+ indi- viduals the dignity and respect to which they are entitled, substantial changes are needed. One critical change is to imple- ment mandatory training of police officers, lawyers, judges, and other members of the
legal community. Through such training, attendees can gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics and struggles of the LGBTQ+ community, which will enable them to build a rapport and sense of trust with LGBTQ+ individuals. Fur- thermore, as the abbreviation suggests, LGBTQ+ is a diverse community, meaning even members within that community can benefit from such training. The most immediate and impactful change that we can make is to watch our words. Our word choices go a long way in communicating with LGBTQ+ people that we respect them. The disapproving looks and comments need to stop. When an individual asks to be called by a certain name, refer to the individual by that name. In the courtroom, official documents may need to refer to an individual by a differ- ent name. However, the individual can be addressed by lawyers, judges, etc. by the preferred name and pronouns. Any con- cerns regarding discrepancies in the tran- scripts of court proceedings can be readily resolved if the judge simply indicates that the individual is or has been “also known as” the other name. After the judge makes this clear when the case is initially called, the individual can be referred to by their preferred name and pronouns during the rest of the proceeding. There is also no harm in asking an individual what their preferred pronouns are. Research shows that even small changes such as referring to individuals by their preferred names and pronouns can have immediate, noteworthy consequences. One such study included 129 transgender and gender nonconforming youths ranging in age from 15 to 21. The participants were selected from three cities across the United
Charles Golaszewski is an Assistant State’s Attorney employed by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
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