By Ned Meiners and S. Priana Aquino
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office announced a new policy this week that would require all employees to ask and use the correct pronouns and titles for transgender and nonbinary crime victims, witnesses, and defendants.
This new policy follows Mayor London Breed’s 2018 order for all city agencies and departments to include the option of nonbinary on all documents in addition to male and female when asking about gender identity.
The policy defines “correct pronouns” as “the pronouns an individual uses and identifies with and wants others to use when being addressed.”
If the defendant does use a different name than the one listed on the charging documents, they may, with the defendant’s consent, be amended to include this name along with their legal name. They will be referred to by this “correct name” for the duration of the proceedings.
This policy is designed to limit misgendering, or the practice of referring to someone by pronouns that do not correspond to that person’s gender identity. The practice of inquiring about pronouns shall also extend to witnesses and victims as well.
In Chesa Boudin’s announcement, it was specified that as part of this new policy, charging documents may be amended to use preferred names if the person accused of a crime requests it.
The press conference last week occurred shortly after a Pride party held at DA Chesa Boudin’s office, and notably on the last day of Pride month.
Boudin was joined by several local LGBTQ leaders, including Chief of Staff, David Campos, a gay man.
“It is critical that transgender people feel safe, whether accused of a crime or the victim of a crime,” said Boudin.
Campos also remarked that the adoption of this new policy would send a message “to other entities in the county of San Francisco, who hopefully will take steps in embracing this policy.”
San Francisco is the second city to instate this policy, receiving help from Prosecutor Eli Savit of Washtenaw County, Michigan—the first city to do so.
San Francisco is the first District Attorney’s office in California to enact such a policy, a move it hopes will set the standard for respecting the rights of transgender and nonbinary people in offices throughout the nation.
Boudin’s office also received help from the Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives in drafting this policy.
Clair Farley, a trans woman who is the executive director of the city’s Office of Transgender Initiatives, expressed their pride in having aided the DA.
“Trans and gender-nonconforming communities — specifically Black trans women — experience disproportionate rates of violence and engagement with the criminal justice system, and this new policy takes important steps in assuring trans residents are respected and feel safe,” said Farley.
Despite these promising steps forward, there is still much work to be done in ensuring the safety of all transgender folks specifically in our legal system, said Boudin, adding, “There’s a long, often-shameful history with law enforcement interacting with the community we celebrate today.”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced earlier on June 30 the release of a report showing reported anti-trans hate crimes rose 72 percent in 2020.
Imani Rupert-Gordon, a queer woman who is the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, pointed out that, given these numbers, “policies by government officials that protect transgender people are more urgent than ever.”
“It is imperative that we strive every day to make all aspects of society more inclusive to the LGBTQIA community,” stated Kaylah Williams, Co-President of Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club. “I applaud District Attorney Boudin’s leadership in promoting inclusivity, fostering acceptance, and increasing public safety for the transgender and non-binary community,”
Many people fail to realize the real damage that misgendering can cause those of us who identify as transgender: humiliation, fear, trauma, and even physical harm.” explained Honey Mahogany, Co-Founder of the Transgender District and Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party.
“I am grateful to DA Boudin for continuing to work to honor the humanity and individuality of everyone in the criminal justice system by creating this policy to respect gender identity throughout the legal process, both in and out of the courtroom.”
The effects of misgendering on the transgender community cannot be overstated. According to a 2021 survey by The Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ suicide hotline, more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth have seriously contemplated committing suicide.
However, transgender and nonbinary youth who are referred to by the correct pronouns by those that they live with have a 50 percent less chance of attempting suicide than those who are not.
Transgender and gender non-conforming people are also disproportionately the victims of violent crime. According to Human Rights Watch, more transgender people experienced violent deaths in 2020, than any year previously. However, much of this remains significantly under-reported.
Experts note that misgendering can lead to distrust and fear of the legal system and make transgender and nonbinary people unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement and other officials. An Australian study has shown that over a quarter of transgender people were hesitant to consult with medical experts for fear of being misgendered.