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Michigan Supreme Court considers requiring use of preferred pronouns in courtrooms

Michigan Supreme Court
The court debated the merits of the change Wednesday. (ehrlif /
  • Court justices are considering requiring use of preferred pronouns in court statewide
  • Measure would allow for they/them pronouns and other preferences to be reflected in court record 
  • Supporters say it would make courts more inclusive, but others are concerned

Michigan’s highest court is considering a rule that would compel judges and their employees to use the preferred pronouns of anyone coming before their courts. 

If the Michigan Supreme Court adopts a new rule proposed earlier this year, parties in a case could submit filings listing their personal pronouns, including they/them pronouns. 

Judges and court staff throughout the state would be obligated to adhere to those pronouns, although the proposal leaves room for a judge to use the person's name "or other respectful means" to address them if deemed necessary for court records.


Supporters of the change say that changing current policy would make Michigan courtrooms more inclusive, particularly to transgender and nonbinary people who must go before a local court to legally change their names.

Many LGBTQ+ people have had negative experiences in Michigan courtrooms when they've been referred to by names or pronouns that they no longer use, Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for ACLU of Michigan's LGBTQ Project, said during a Wednesday Supreme Court hearing on the proposed rule.

The amendment would be "common decency" towards all who come through the court, regardless of gender expression, Kaplan said.

Heidi Naasko, an attorney who frequently works with transgender and non-binary individuals, said she's seen firsthand instances where litigants are misgendered during court proceedings.

“It has caused embarrassment, humiliation and panic to the impacted party," Naasko said.

But others claimed the measure could cause confusion in court records and potentially infringe on constitutional rights to free speech or religious expression.

Will Bloomfield, general counsel for the Catholic Diocese of Lansing, said Catholic judges "should not have to choose between his or her religion and a court rule," arguing the rule "contradicts the truth of human sexuality."

Using they/them pronouns could also cause clarity issues for court reporters and judges writing opinions, other attorneys told the court.

For transgender and nonbinary people, though, the rules could make all the difference in feeling comfortable to engage in the legal process, said Julisa Abad, director of transgender outreach for the Fair Michigan Justice Project and a trans woman. 

Transgender individuals won't feel empowered to testify in court or report crimes "if they know they’re not even going to be accepted or respected as their authentic selves," Abad said.

Some are advocating for a middle ground. In an April letter to the court, four groups representing Michigan judges suggested tweaking the proposed rule to allow for "respectful means of address" to give everyone respect while allowing for court discretion to avoid confusion.

Whether the rule change is adopted is ultimately up to court justices, and it's unclear when the court will make its decision.

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