I’m Jess, a nonbinary lawyer from the Bronx.
When I was sworn in as an attorney – a day so many students dream of – I walked into the courthouse as myself. It was a major day for me, having just graduated from NYU Law School with big hopes of pursuing a career in LGBTQ civil rights. My Mom had even taken time off of work, a big deal at the time, to see me sworn in.
What should have been a day marked with pride and celebration was marred after a security guard grabbed and tried to remove me for not wearing a tie, a dress code requirement of all men.
I walked into that building a cis woman presenting as gender nonconforming. I have a short haircut, love of TopMan suits, and am known to purchase dinosaur sweatshirts from the boy’s section at Target. None of these physical traits have any bearing on my abilities as a lawyer or my professionalism in that building. But, in that space there were rules about what men and women should and shouldn’t look like, and in the eyes of the security guard, I clearly broke them. Breaking those rules by simply existing in my gender identity warranted public harassment on what should have been a day of celebration.
From that day, I went on to represent kids in family court in New York City and adults with felonies in Minnesota. In those formative years I fought against the injustices my clients faced – systemic racism, police misconduct, unfair sentencing. As a public defender I worked in triage-mode with a high volume of cases. Although I could see that each of the injustices my clients faced was part of a broader system of inequity, my goals were to defend individual clients without much opportunity to step back and address the broader picture.
We know that gender discrimination comes from rigid, binary beliefs about the immutability of gender, of how we are supposed to act and look. These beliefs are upheld and often weaponized by lawmakers, judges, and other gatekeepers to protect and preserve their power. These beliefs perpetuate discrimination against transgender students, new parents in the workforce, pregnant people trying to access needed abortion care, and more.
As Gender Justice’s legal director, I get to challenge gender norms and biases and the way they show up in the law.
I’m sure you agree that the reality of gender is expansive. Trans and nonbinary people deserve the same rights and dignities as everyone else. Women and femmes deserve to live full lives without being held back by gender stereotypes.
Please take a minute today to make a gift to Gender Justice. Your generous support means that together, we can create a world where everyone can live fully – and thrive – as their true authentic selves.
Thank you for your support, friendship, and belief in a gender expansive future.
In justice and solidarity,
Gender Justice Legal Director