Adrienne Smith champions inclusion of transgender people at work, in unions, and beyond

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      In the lead-up to the Vancouver Pride parade (which takes place on August 5), we’ve compiled profiles of LGBT community members that, together, offer just a brief view of how multiple identities overlap, interplay, and interact to make up each individual’s totality. To see more of our Pride 2018 coverage, click here.

      Adrienne Smith competed in poetry slams while attending law school. Nowadays, the Vancouver poet only gets to write verses occasionally, more as therapy to soothe the strains of lawyering.

      As a human-rights lawyer, Smith represents some of the most marginalized beings in society, including transgender people, sex workers, drug users, and prisoners.

      “These are folks who have experienced law as a sword and they don’t have the benefit of the shield, and I want to give them that,” Smith said.

      Smith spoke with the Georgia Straight in the Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood that many vulnerable people, as well as the Vancouver-born solicitor, call home.

      “I went to law to smuggle legal education over to our side of the barricade,” Smith related. “I didn’t go to law school like a lot of my classmates did, for the purpose of getting jobs in big law firms. I was always going to do a different kind of law: as social-justice law, outsider law.”

      According to the 41-year-old, appearing at a poetry slam and in court are rather similar.

      “If you can’t think on your feet and you can’t make the audience go with what you’re saying, you’re not going to be good at either,” Smith said, “and I saw that parallel right away and it made me comfortable.”

      Smith was called to the bar in 2014 and started work in that same year as health-and-drug-policy staff lawyer with Pivot Legal Society. After two years with Pivot, Smith opened a human-rights law office, providing services for free. In January this year, Smith began to serve as a Pacific regional representative with the Canadian Labour Congress.

      “Some of the most important work that I’m proud of doing at the congress is working on how unions can include transgender people in our workplaces and also in our unions, because it’s a very binary space,” Smith said.

      Since 2014, Smith has been providing legal advice as a volunteer to clients of the Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre, a local organization that serves transgender people.

      As a nonbinary transgender person, Smith does not identify as either masculine or feminine. For self-reference, the lawyer uses the gender-neutral pronouns they, them, and their.

      “I was assigned female at birth,” Smith said. “My body is unremarkable in that way; everything is where it should be. But the gender identity that corresponds with that sex designation never fit. I was an odd little girl. I was very much a tomboy, much more masculine in my presentation and in my identity, but not a boy either. And I was maybe 20 before there was an Internet enough for me to find other people like me and figure out the words for what I am.”

      In court, the transgender lawyer at times is referred to by judges as “Miss Smith”, and that causes an “uncomfortable tension”. Smith usually puts up with that, knowing how judges have so much power and that the law remains a traditional field with conventional gender roles.

      “I can have a little Pride parade for myself every day in court or my client can get out of jail or have their bail varied or get a fair hearing,” Smith said.