The OutCenter stands for trans people’s rights — and that includes their right to be referred to by their pronouns in Michigan’s courts.
In December, a Michigan Court of Appeals judge wrote that he objected to other judges referring to a defendant in accordance with their gender pronouns.
The defendant in the case People vs. Gobrick is a trans woman who uses the pronouns “they/them.” The majority of the judges on the case agreed to use those pronouns, but in Judge Boonstra’s response, he wrote, “This court should not be altering its lexicon whenever an individual prefers to be identified in a manner contrary to what society throughout all of human history has understood to be the immutable truth.” Judge Boonstra then refers to a purported quote from President Abraham Lincoln that states: “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”
The OutCenter has signed an open letter, along with many other pro-LGBTQ+ organizations like the ACLU of Michigan, Equality Michigan and Stand With Trans, saying that “Judge Boonstra’s opinion reflects both a lack of understanding and intolerance toward transgender people.” It’s one thing for Judge Boonstra to hold an opinion as a private citizen, but when he writes these sort of statements as a sitting judge, it sends a message to trans people that they won’t be treated with the same dignity and fairness as cisgender people in Michigan’s courts.
We believe Judge Boonstra’s response violates the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct: “Without regard to a person’s race, gender, or other protected personal characteristic, a judge should treat every person fairly, with courtesy and respect.”
We urge the judiciary and the bar to take this opportunity to invest in LGBT+ cultural competency training in Michigan. Every Michigander deserves equal treatment by our courts, including those in the LGBTQ+ community.
If you want to help, reach out to the Michigan State Bar and ask them to develop a style guide that clarifies the proper use of pronouns and invest in LGBTQ+ cultural competency training.
Below is the full letter. Read Judge McCormack’s response here: