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Brooklyn Bar Association CLE prepares lawyers for handling LGBTQ clients

February 8, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Bar Association's LGBTQ Committee held a CLE seminar to help educate lawyers on how to deal with the LGBTQ community. Pictured from left: Jen Bryan, member services director; Christina Golkin, chair of the LGBTQ Committee; and Avery Eli Okin, executive director. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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The Brooklyn Bar Association’s LGBTQ Committee hosted a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminar in Brooklyn Heights on Thursday where it taught attorneys the ins and outs of dealing with LGBTQ clients including recent laws and terminology.

The hourlong seminar was hosted by Christina Golkin, a trustee with the Brooklyn Bar Association who created and chairs the LGBTQ Committee.

“It is a big benefit for attorneys to talk about the terminology, the evolving language that the people in the LGBTQ community are using to define and express themselves,” Golkin said. “As attorneys we try to build trusting relationships with our clients and expect them to tell us potentially upsetting and stressful information about their lives. If we can speak in the language of the LGBTQ community then it helps us to build that relationship.”

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Golkin explained that creating a positive relationship can sometimes start with an introduction. She says that in her own personal experience the difference between being asked something simple like, ‘What does your husband do for a living?’ compared to, ‘What does your spouse do for a living?’ can change the tempo of an entire conversation.

“That moment is very stressful for an LGBTQ person because you are wondering what kind of interact is this going to be,” Golkin said. “There is a moment where you wonder — am I going to lose a client? Is this relationship going to stop? When someone asks me, ‘What does your spouse do?’ They’re not making an assumption and it’s so much easier to say, ‘Oh, she’s an attorney,’ and it’s a non-issue before you move on.”

After she explained some of the history of the language and laws, Golkin went on to explain some basic terminology that attorneys should practice.

“The language is constantly evolving, which can be frustrating, but we have to continuously educate ourselves,” Golkin said. “When I first came out people weren’t identifying as demisexual, pansexual, there was no gender non-conforming. These are very new terms within the community. It’s OK not to know everything. It’s OK if you haven’t heard of a word before.”

The one topic that is off limits, according to Golkin, are questions about people’s genitals.

“There is no one way to transition, there is no right way to transition,” Golkin said. “It doesn’t matter if they’ve had surgery … If they are putting themselves out there as a woman then they are a woman and nothing else matters. It’s not OK to ask a person about their genitals. It is OK to ask a person what their pronoun is.”

Golkin suggested that attorneys must also train their staff and secretaries about the issues so they are mindful when dealing with clients. 

One suggestion included putting a person’s given name on the outside of folders if a client goes by a different name than their given one so as not to confuse staff and potentially mis-gender the client. The clients given name should be on the inside of the file as a reference if it is required for the legal action.

Another suggestion was to market to the LGBTQ community and to create intake forms that are gender neutral.  For example, by replacing “husband” and “wife” with “Spouse” or to offer more choices for gender identification besides “male” and “female,” such as “gender non-conforming,” “gender creative,” “non-binary,” or to have the person write in their gender. 

“When an LGBTQ person walks into an office, they are constantly looking for clues about whether it is going to be a good experience or bad experience,” Golkin said. “When you see that pride flag it matters. It’s an immediate stress relief because even if they’re not gay, you know that they support you.”


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