SF District Attorney

District Attorney’s Office Announces Bold New Policy Directive to Respect the Gender Identity of All Who Encounter the Criminal Legal System

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Rachel Marshall, (415) 416-4468 / Rachel.Marshall@sfgov.org  

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced a bold new policy to promote respect for the gender identity of all people encountering the criminal legal system.  The policy, announced as part of Pride Month, aims to promote acceptance and honor the humanity of all members of the LGBTQIA community, including transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people.  The policy directs all San Francisco District Attorney’s Office staff to both inquire and then use correct pronouns, names, and titles for crime victims, witnesses, and the accused in a criminal case.  It is believed to be the first policy of its kind in any California prosecutor’s office.

“Everyone who encounters the criminal legal system—whether crime victim or survivor, witness, or defendant—deserves to be treated with dignity and compassion, which includes respect for their gender identity,” said District Attorney Boudin.  “This policy not only fosters acceptance at a time when we have seen transgender and LGBTQIA people targeted around the country, but also promotes public safety, as transgender and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately victimized by violence.  To combat this kind of violence and hate, we must model respect and uplift the humanity of every person in the legal system.”

The District Attorney’s Office’s New Policy

The policy “Gender Neutral and Gender Inclusive Pronoun Use for People Encountering the Criminal  Legal System” requires that, in all new cases following today’s date, prosecutors and SFDA staff members inquire the correct pronouns used by all victims and witnesses, and document those pronouns in the file.  It also requires prosecutors to note when someone has a chosen name that differs from a legal name and use that name in addressing or referencing the person. 

The policy also requires prosecutors to ask the defense which pronouns should be used for anyone accused of a crime, and to document and use those pronouns throughout the pendency of the case.  In cases where someone accused of a crime uses a different chosen name than a legal name, charging documents may be amended (only with the consent of the defense) to reflect that name, although legal names will also continue to be listed secondarily on all charging documents for purposes of criminal record-keeping.

In drafting this policy, the District Attorney’s Office, led by Director of Communications & Policy Advisor Rachel Marshall, consulted with numerous legal and community organizations that work with those directly impacted by the change, including the Transgender Law Center; the National Center for Lesbian Rights; and the City of San Francisco’s Office of Transgender Initiatives, all of which provided critical feedback and suggestions.  The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office’s Policy Committee also workshopped the policy.  In addition, the District Attorney’s Office received guidance from Christina Hines, First Assistant Prosecuting Attorney at the Office of Washtenaw County (Michigan) Prosecutor Eli Slavitt, which implemented a similar policy earlier this year.

The Policy Addresses a Significant Harm

Encouraging respect for the transgender and gender nonconforming community promotes public safety.  Transgender and gender nonconforming persons are disproportionately victimized by violent crime—which is also believed to be significantly underreported.  Reports of violence and hate crimes against transgender people have only increased in recent years, with 2020 being the deadliest year on record. What’s more, failing to identify someone with the right pronouns can potentially put that person at risk for violence from those who may harbor bias or prejudice. 

Using correct pronouns and names may increase trust in the criminal legal process.  Misgendering can lead to distrust and fear of the legal system—which can make transgender and nonbinary people reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement.  For example, one report showed that over a quarter of transgender people hesitated to consult with medical experts based on fears of being misgendered.  Those same concerns can play a role in the legal system, where it is critical that transgender people feel safe.  A 2015 research report surveyed LGBTQ youth in New York City engaged in survival sex in New York City and found that nearly half of participants reported negative experiences with the judicial system—noting that judges, prosecutors, and others in the courtroom refused to use correct pronouns or names during court proceedings or made negative comments about their gender identity or expression.

Encouraging use of correct pronouns, titles and names promotes public safety in other ways too.  According to the Trevor Project’s 2021 survey, more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth have seriously contemplated committing suicide.  These impacts are disproportionately experienced by people of color. Yet transgender and nonbinary youth who are referred to by the correct pronouns have a 50% less chance of attempting suicide than those whose pronouns were not respected by those living with them. 

Praise for the Policy from Political Leaders

The announcement was met by praise from San Francisco’s political leaders.  “At a time where LGBTQ rights – particularly rights for trans people – are under attack across the country, it’s critical that we, in San Francisco, lead on LGTBQ civil rights,” said California State Senator Scott Wiener. “This starts with the very basics: respecting people’s gender identity. I applaud District Attorney Boudin’s commitment to this goal in our courts; we must ensure people’s pronouns and names are respected in every circumstance, including when they come through our legal system.”

“Transgender and non-binary people deserve dignity and respect in every aspect of our society—including the legal system,” said Honey Mahogany, Co-Founder of the Transgender District & Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party.  “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.  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.”

“This policy takes a bold and necessary step in promoting safety for members of the LGBTQ community, and particularly those who are transgender and non-binary,” said former State Senator Mark Leno, who served as Chair of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus.  “DA Boudin has created a policy that not only should be a model to prosecutors’ offices nationwide, but should remind all workplaces and environments to honor and respect individual gender identity.”

Other longtime political leaders agreed.  “I am proud of District Attorney Boudin’s office for this groundbreaking measure to protect the rights of transgender and non-binary people in the legal system,” said longtime activist and elected official Tom Ammiano.

Praise for the Announcement from LGBTQIA Activists and Leaders

Advocates for the transgender and LGBTQIA community heralded the announcement. “Transgender Law Center is encouraged to see proactive change from the District Attorneys Office, as it’s one of many steps that can be taken to better meet the needs of transgender people who historically are criminalized at high rates simply for being transgender and surviving,”  said Shelby Chestnut, Director of Policy and Programs for the Transgender Law Center.

“We are proud to have consulted with the San Francisco’s District Attorney’s Office in drafting this new Gender Inclusion Policy that expands the use of chosen names and pronouns,” said Clair Farley, Executive Director of the Office of Transgender Initiatives in San Francisco. “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.” 

“Every person who comes in contact with the criminal justice system must be treated with dignity and respect,” said Imani Rupert-Gordon, the Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Given the epidemic of violence against transgender women of color, policies by government officials that protect transgender people are more urgent than ever. NCLR supports District Attorney Boudin in implementing these common sense protections for transgender and non-binary people who interact with the District Attorney’s office.”

“It is imperative that we strive every day to make all aspects of society more inclusive to the LGBTQIA community, and I applaud District Attorney Boudin’s leadership in promoting inclusivity, fostering acceptance, and increasing public safety for the transgender and non-binary community,” said Kaylah Williams, Co-President of Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club.

“We must uplift the humanity of everyone in our legal system— not just during Pride Month, but every day of the year,” said District Attorney Boudin.  “This policy will promote trust in the legal system and help ensure that San Francisco is a safe and accepting community for everyone.”

The policy is effective immediately.  The District Attorney’s Office will offer additional trainings for staff on respecting gender pronouns in compliance with the policy to supplement the three trainings it provided last year, which focused on respect for transgender and gender non-binary persons and promoting gender inclusion.