Advocating for Transgender Minors in Probate Guardianships
Oliver: Hi, my name is Oliver Greenwood, I’m your attorney and my pronouns are he/him/they. How would you like to be addressed?
Minor client: Ok, boomer.
Oliver: Wait, what?
Minor client: Why are you being so weird?
Oliver: I thought it would be appropriate to introduce myself and see how you would like to be addressed.
Minor client: I get it. Why not just say your name and ask me what my name is? I guess saying your pronouns is fine.
Oliver: Oh, but I thought…Thanks. I’ll try this again. Hi, I’m Oliver. What’s your name?
Representing minors pursuant to Probate Code §1470(a) in probate guardianships is amazingly fulfilling and educational. It is an ever-evolving landscape of legal representation which demands particular attention and sensitivity, especially when representing transgender minors. A transgender minor is an individual whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender person may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically to match their gender identity.
Probate guardianships in California are established pursuant to Probate Code §1514 to ensure the well-being and safety of minors when their parents or legal guardians are unable or unwilling to provide proper care. These situations can arise due to a variety of factors, including parental neglect, abuse, or the passing of a parent. When representing transgender minors in these guardianships, attorneys must not only navigate the legal complexities but also provide a supportive and inclusive environment where these individuals can express their needs and preferences.
It is crucial to become educated and stay up-to-date. In addition to the requirements required in the California Probate Code and the California Rules of Court, Counsel is advised to look into the requirements for court-appointed counsel in juvenile dependency proceedings. In particular, California Rules of Court, rule 7.1102(c)–(d) requires that counsel representing minors in a probate guardianship proceedings complete three hours of education covering one of the following subjects:
- Statutes, rules of court, and case law governing probate guardianship proceedings and the legal rights of parents and children;
- Child development, including techniques for communicating with a child client; and
- Risk factors for child abuse, neglect, and family violence.
In comparison to the probate rules, the requirements for attorneys appointed in juvenile dependency matters are much more descriptive. Specifically, under California Rules of Court, rule 5.664(b)(2), counsel is required to learn about “cultural competency and sensitivity relating to, and best practices for, providing adequate care to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.” Arguably, the requirement of learning “…techniques for communicating with a child client” in the probate guardianship rule wouldcover this, but the clarity in the juvenile rules is far more extensive and new court-appointed counsel may not be familiar with the intricacies of the appointment.
While counsel represents their client in the probate guardianship, it is helpful to understand and become aware of many of the unique legal challenges transgender minors often face. A significant consideration is the individual’s chosen name and gender identity, which might differ from their legal documentation. Attorneys must be well-versed in California laws that allow for the updating of name and gender markers on identification documents, ensuring that the minor’s chosen identity is respected and reflected accurately.
Use the right pronouns
Why focus on pronouns? Because people matter. According to GLSEN.org, “[i]ncluding pronouns is a first step toward respecting people’s identity and creating a more welcoming space for people of all genders.” Once you are aware of an individual’s preferred pronouns, use them. This takes practice and mistakes happen.
Another crucial legal aspect is medical care. Some transgender minors may require gender-affirming medical treatments, such as hormone therapy or, rarely, surgeries. Court-appointed counsel should understand the legal framework surrounding medical decision-making for minors which unfortunately exceeds the scope of this article.
Beyond the legal intricacies, the emotional well-being of transgender minors is paramount. Many transgender individuals experience discrimination, bullying and mental health challenges. In the context of probate guardianships, attorneys should be attuned to the emotional needs of these minors, offering a safe space for them to express their fears, hopes and concerns.
Court-appointed counsel serves as a bridge between the legal system, the minor and their families. They have a responsibility to ensure that the minor’s voice is heard and their best interests are upheld. This often involves fostering communication between the minor, the family and the court. In cases where the family might not fully understand or support the minor’s gender identity, attorneys can play a pivotal role in educating families about transgender issues and advocating for the minor’s rights.
For transgender minors, accessing a safe and supportive educational environment can be a significant concern. Attorneys representing these minors must be prepared to advocate for their educational rights, ensuring that schools provide an environment free from discrimination and harassment based on gender identity.
Representing transgender minors in probate guardianships is a complex and rewarding endeavor. It requires a deep understanding of both the legal landscape and the unique challenges faced by transgender individuals. This might seem like a lot. And it is—for these young clients. Take the time, put in the effort and ensure that each minor is receiving the best possible advocacy they deserve.
I mess up in many of my conversations throughout the day. I want to get the conversations right with everyone I meet, but especially with my minor clients. It helps when I try to be a better listener than a talker, recognizing I have two ears and one mouth. I am continuously researching and reviewing information to ensure that I am up to date in representing my minor clients. Some websites I recommend:
- The Human Rights Campaign (hrc.org)
- PFLAG (pflag.org)
- Gender Spectrum (genderspectrum.org) No site is one-stop shopping when it comes to information but this site has many useful resources that I frequently refer back to.
- Trans Youth Handbook, co-authored by Harvard Law School’s LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (https://hlslgbtq.org/trans-youth-handbook)
- Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (glsen.org; has great information on pronouns)
Practice, practice, practice. These small changes may mean much more to your clients.