Here’s my report on today’s Arizona State Bar Board of Governor’s meeting:
It’s a long story, but there has been controversy surrounding the ethical rule governing Arizona attorneys that prohibits bias or prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sex, etc. in the practice of law for several years now. (ER 8.4(d) and Comment 3.) As a member of the State Bar’s Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), we have been pushing to, among other things, expand the rule to add “gender expression” to the already existing categories of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as a prohibited basis for discrimination. As anyone familiar with Arizona politics will understand, the more conservative elements of the Bar have opposed this move. In fact, their most recent move was to file a petition to completely gut the rule by, among other things, removing all listed grounds of discrimination.
To counter that proposal and, hopefully, put this controversy to rest once and for all, Ameilia Cramer, the current President of the State Bar (and an out lesbian), appointed a task force representing all sides of the controversy to develop a recommendation to the Board on what should be done with this rule. The Task Force, by consensus, determined that the rule should be strengthened by clarifying what practices are prohibited, expanding the rule so it applies to attorneys’ work outside the courtroom, and by adding “gender expression.” That proposal was unanimously approved by the Bar’s Rules Committee, which reviews all proposals for changes to Arizona court rules, and recommended for adoption by the Board of Governors. (Adoption by the Board would result in the Bar filing a petition to the State Supreme Court to adopt the proposed rule; that court has the final say.)
Today was the Board’s first opportunity to review the proposed rule amendment. I, another trans woman attorney who was a member of the Task Force and a member of SOGI, and the chair of the SOGI committee (a gay man) appeared on behalf of the committee in support of the proposal. My role was to explain the concept of gender expression, since virtually no one on the Board has had any experience with trans people, let alone that unfamiliar phrase. In the short time I had, I provided a couple of examples from my own life of gender expression and how it has affected my perception and treatment by others. In addition, in response to a question from a member of the Board, I explained the differences between gender identity and gender expression and why including both is important.
Unfortunately, given the strong opposition by right-wing groups, including the Alliance Defending Freedom (fka the Alliance Defense Fund), which is based in Arizona, it appears likely that the Board will adopt the Task Force’s proposal but without “gender expression.” The Board won’t actually vote on the Task Force’s proposal until the next meeting on December 14. Amelia Cramer asked that I return for that meeting, so I will be definitely be there.
Although the inclusion of “gender expression” in the rule would serve an important educational function by informing attorneys that that type of discrimination is prohibited, omitting that phrase should not have any substantive effect on the scope of the rule, since discrimination based on gender expression, or failure to conform to gender stereotypes, is already prohibited as a type of sex discrimination under the line of cases culminating last April in the EEOC’s decision that Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination includes discrimination because someone is transgender (Macey v. Holder). In addition, I was assured by State Bar Counsel, who is responsible for filing disciplinary proceedings against attorneys who violate the rules of ethics, that the current rule is already interpreted to prohibit gender expression discrimination. Consequently, I, personally, do not oppose omission of the phrase “gender expression” from the amended rule. At the same time, I will strongly support efforts to insert that phrase into the rule in the next 1 or 2 years, after further education of Arizona attorneys on this issue, as discussed by Board during today’s meeting.
So, stay tuned and I’ll let you know what happens on December 14.
By the way, if the Task Force’s proposal was adopted in its original form, Arizona would become the first state to specifically include that phrase in the ethical rules governing attorneys, a remarkable feat if it comes to pass, given that, in recent years, the “firsts” Arizona has been known for have been on the extreme opposite end of the political spectrum.