Transgender people have significant legal needs. Unfortunately, very few attorneys have been trained in how to work in a culturally competent and respectful manner with transgender clients.
Transgender clients operate against a backdrop of discrimination and hardship, or as one survey of transgender persons put it they face "injustice at every turn."1 Sixty-three percent of transgender persons have experienced a "serious act of discrimination" - that is, "events that would have a major impact on a person's quality of life and ability to sustain themselves financially or emotionally."2
Discrimination in employment is rampant, with 90 percent of transgender persons reporting discrimination.3 Unfortunately, discrimination and harassment against transgender persons extend to the legal industry as well.4
Against such a backdrop, it is all the more important for attorneys representing transgender clients to be able to build trust. This article explains a few of the basic concepts that will help attorneys understand and work with their transgender clients better.
First, it is helpful to define a few terms.
Gender identity: A person's intrinsic sense of being male (a boy or man), female (a girl or woman), or an alternative gender (e.g., boygirl, girlboy, transgender, genderqueer, eunuch).5 A person's gender identity may differ from biological characteristics associated with a particular sex, such as genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, hormones and chromosomes.
Gender role or expression: Characteristics in personality, appearance and behavior that in a given culture and historical period are designated as masculine or feminine (that is, more typical of the male or female social role). While most individuals present socially in clearly masculine or feminine gender roles, some people present in an alternative gender role such as genderqueer or specifically transgender. All people tend to incorporate both masculine and feminine characteristics in their gender expression in varying ways and to varying degrees.6
Sexual orientation: A completely distinct concept from gender identity. Sexual orientation refers not to one's gender identity, but the gender of people with whom one wants to enter romantic and/or sexual relationships.
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