March Co-Chair Letter

March Co-Chair Letter

To our NTBA community,

How do we hold the grief of this moment? How do we make space for our own traumas – new and old? At home and abroad, trans people continue to suffer relentless attacks on our rights and lives. We, your co-chairs, have had a range of feelings while processing the deaths and discrimination in the news—a fluctuating mix of rage, despair, numbness, worry. We remind each other that all of these feelings are valid. Whatever we decide to do to cope with everything going on in the world is valid. We bear no responsibility for being the targeted community in this moment and yet we, as legal professionals, might feel shame about being in the legal segment of this targeted community. That shame is not yours to shoulder.

Take a moment to hold space for yourself. This moment. Take it.

And now join us as a community in spending some time sitting with the recent death of Nex Benedict, a Two Spirit, transgender, and gender nonconforming student of Choctaw heritage indigenous who died after being bashed in their high school bathroom in Oklahoma. It is viscerally obvious to our community that Oklahoma’s anti-trans bathroom policy, requiring public school students to use bathrooms according to the sex on their birth certificates, played a role in the violence that befell Nex. By the time of their death, the Oklahoma Governor had signed legislation banning trans women and girls from competing in women’s sports and banning nonbinary gender markers on birth certificates, and signed an executive order directing state agencies to use narrow, transphobic definitions of “male” and “female,” citing the “out-of-control gender ideology that is eroding the very foundation of our society.” We know in the tightened pit of our stomach that this legislative assault is related to this violence and its horrible outcome.

Nex’s death shows what happens when trans people experience formal discrimination in the law. The NTBA joined and helped edit a public letter urging the removal of Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction, who was responsible for fostering a culture of violence and hate against the Two Spirit, LGBTQ+ community in Oklahoma for years. The letter also asked the Oklahoma legislature to begin an investigation in to the Oklahoma Department of Education that would allow a culture where harassment against Two Spirit LGBTQ+ students has been allowed to go unchecked.

This “culture” of harassment is clearly more widespread than in any single state agency, state, or part of the country. This isn’t a Southern problem. This isn’t a Republican problem. This is a national problem.

Shining through the dark depths of our despair, we find a glimmer of hope: Over 40 of Nex Benedict’s classmates walked out to protest the school’s bullying policies that led to their death and the impunity towards their harassers. By and large, students support their Two Spirit LGBTQ+ classmates. There is no need to “protect” children from medically necessary care. There is no need to “protect” children from drag performers. There is no need to “protect” children from allowing their classmates to use restrooms or locker rooms that align with their gender identity or make them feel safe.

As our colleague Kristen Browde’s work has shown: There is a need to protect children from sexual abuse by their religious and youth group leaders and gym teachers and coaches and sports medicine physicians and conservative political leaders.

Anti-trans policies across this country create harm—direct harm to those in each affected locality and widespread trauma to those outside watching on in horror—and benefit literally no one. They exacerbate gender dysphoria because they prevent trans people from existing in society in ways that allow authentic expression of their gender. They also exacerbate the feelings of minority stress that trans people may already feel in a cis and heterosexual majority world. Anti-trans policies negatively impact the mental health of LGBTQ young people and adults. Lawyers aren’t immune; our health is impacted too and we need be mindful of this for ourselves and each other.

Anti-trans bills are reifications of hateful discrimination. They shift the discussion and make trans people feel as if we must exist on the defensive. And as legal professionals, we feel this doubly because we feel specially equipped to do something about it. They ignore the collective medical understanding that necessary gender-affirming care alleviates distress for youth and adults alike.

As the legal community, we are some of the most capable advocates within the political system. We can join in local advocacy to combat anti-trans bills and to stand up for the rights of trans youth and adults whose lives are at risk right now; we know you all have been and will continue to. But we want to send out a reminder: even as we fight, we’re not responsible for the state of the legal system. We—your Co-Chairs—are hurting as lawyers as we watch people bend the legal system to directly harm our community.

As such, we also strongly encourage you to seek out and be in community. You belong in this country, in your broader community. When we come together, we can hold grief collectively, process traumatic moments, feel the restorative energy of being in a space where no one doubts that we belong, and find openings for joy to shine through. We believe this is a form of resistance. So that is our call: Hold space for one another. And, to the extent you can, focus on the good you’re doing more than the harm you’re mitigating.

We were grateful for that opportunity to be together in the first weekend of March in New York City, alongside the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York and the NYU Review of Law and Social Change. It is always refreshing to meet students who are already working to be part of the next generation of our movement.

We will continue to hold events across the country and online throughout the year because we know how important, even sacred, it is to come together as trans lawyers and allies. We will be convening on August 7, 2024, in Washington D.C., at the Trans Law Institute on the first day of the National LGBTQ Bar Association’s Lavender Law Conference. We will also be in community in the evening of the last day of the conference, August 9, 2024. Details to come!

Please let us know how we can support you. Keep being your brilliant, bold selves. We are so grateful to be in community with you.


D and Rafael, NTBA Co-Chairs