TRU Law faculty member Samuel Singer is well-known for his work on advancing transgender legal rights throughout Canada. With his recent contributions to the field including authoring a chapter on trans-competent lawyering in a LGBTQ2+ law book, co-organizing a conference at McGill Law on trans legal changes and co-authoring a subsequent magazine article on trans heroes in Canadian case law, Singer has been awarded a fellowship with The Ontario Bar Association (OBA) Foundation.
“This year’s Fellow in Research, Prof. Sam Singer, will study the ethical and professional skills required of lawyers and judicial officers in providing access to justice to members of the trans community,” said OBA Foundation Trustee Lee Akazaki. “The OBA Foundation welcomes the opportunity to support this important work.”
Singer’s appointment as OBA Foundation Chief Justice of Ontario Fellow in Legal Ethics and Professionalism Research for 2019-20 is an acknowledgement of all the work he has done to support trans rights.
“I am honoured to receive this fellowship, to support my research on building the trans competency of the legal profession,” said Singer. “Following up on my recent work on those left on the margins of trans legal changes, this fellowship funds research to broaden the reach of trans rights by looking at the ethical and professional frameworks for lawyers serving trans clients and judges hearing trans parties.”
He also helped organize the On the Margins of Trans Legal Change conference at McGill Law in May 2019, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), that invited activists and researchers to reflect on the work that’s been done to advance the legal rights of trans individuals, who have been left out and what is left to do. The conference organizing committee was chaired by William Hébert (Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, Memorial University), with Singer’s co-organizers including Ido Katri (University of Toronto), Alanna Thain (McGill’s Institute of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies) and McGill’s Faculty of Law Dean Robert Leckey.
“I was thrilled to be part of this project and for my faculty to host an extraordinary conference that had a major impact on my students and surrounding trans communities,” said Leckey, who served as the principal investigator for the SSHRC grant, with Singer as co-investigator. “It was an all-too-rare collaboration between activists and generations of researchers.”
The event kicked off with a public legal information workshop presented by Singer for lawyers, law students, community advocates and scholars, followed by roundtable discussions about areas where the law is falling short in helping improve the lives of trans people in Canadian society. Dr. Viviane Namaste and Dalia Tourki concluded with keynote discussions reflecting on the historical development of trans justice and where we are in the present day.
“The attendees were a very diverse mix; there were some law students, quite a few activists who are doing incredible work with the trans community and a lot of people from the trans community,” said TRU Law Research Assistant Stephanie Weidmann, who works with Singer. “One of the great things was that—even though so many of the presenters were from the world of academia—the presentations were very accessible and grounded in lived experience.”
A big part of Singer’s work on trans legal issues is building the capacity of legal professionals to meet the needs of trans people. His chapter on trans-competent lawyering in the new book, LGBTQ+ Law: Practice Issues and Analysis, helps lawyers both understand trans people’s specific legal needs and serve them more generally.
Weidmann’s experience as a research assistant has prepared her for advocating for the need for trans competency as she enters the legal world.
“I think it’s so important for lawyers to have an understanding of trans legal issues and the history of trans rights in Canada,” said Weidmann. “It’s the responsibility of lawyers and members of the judiciary to learn about these things and to understand the particular challenges that their trans clients, or trans people who might appear before them in court, face. I get to take that knowledge with me into my career and use it to help my clients, but I will also use it to help my colleagues do a better job of serving their clients.”
Weidmann also co-authored an article with Singer about trans heroes in Canadian case law for the Fighting for Justice issue of Art/iculation magazine.
“Art/iculation is a biannual magazine that challenges mainstream culture by spotlighting un(der)represented perspectives and topics,” said founding editor Sofia Misenheimer. “Fighting for Justice is a must-read article by Samuel Singer and Stephanie Weidmann that chronicles some of the trans people who have advocated for equality and dignity through the Canadian legal system. It not only reflects the hard-fought nature of every right that trans people have in this country, but the lasting impact of their efforts.”