The Honourable Judge Kael McKenzie’s life journey has so far included a long, rich history for a middle-aged jurist who started out as a girl, came out as a lesbian at age 17 and changed his birth gender when he transitioned to a male many years later.
If you add other interesting elements of his background – a Métis lawyer in private practice, a former Crown attorney and member of Canada’s military, a volunteer for various organizations – then his appointment in 2015 as a judge of the Manitoba provincial court clearly brought a unique and diverse perspective to the Bench.
Sworn in in February 2016, Judge McKenzie has been called this country’s first self-identified transgender judge. He was the featured speaker at the 15th annual Pride Reception in Halifax on July 20, 2017, as pictured above in the photo at left.
The event is co-hosted each year by the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society and the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Section of the Canadian Bar Association (Nova Scotia). The 16th Annual Pride Reception features the Hon. Judge Amy Sakalauskas of the Nova Scotia Provincial and Family Courts (above right, taking part in last year's Halifax Pride Parade).
New guidelines for lawyers in Nova Scotia
As another Pride Week initiative for the legal community, the Society has begun to offer half-day educational workshops with community partners. On July 26, 2018, NSBS and The Youth Project will present an Inclusive Policy Development session.
The 2017 Pride workshop, also with The Youth Project, featured the launch of the Society’s new guidelines for supporting trans* and gender-variant clients, colleagues and employees. Visit the Sexual orientation & gender identity section of the online NSBS Equity Portal to access the document:
The guidelines define basic terms, suggest inclusion principles to follow, mention workplace policy and education, and provide further resources.
With respect to privacy and confidentiality, the guidelines say to “always let the client or employee determine how much (personal information) they want to share and with whom. If you are unsure, just ask.”
Promoting a culture of inclusion in the workplace is a continuing process: “Successfully including trans* and gender-variant employees and clients requires ongoing education,” the guidelines say.
During his remarks, Judge McKenzie paid tribute to those he called the “true trailblazers”: early-days Pride activists who marched three decades ago – some with paper bags over their heads to protect their identities. He said he feels “a little uncomfortable” when that term is applied to him, too. Acknowledging he has perhaps “blazed a new road off into another direction,” he said there’s still much work to be done.
“That road – that path that we’ve blazed – it needs maintenance, it needs repair,” he told dozens of lawyers, law students and judges at the reception. “The really, really great thing about that road is – I’m looking around the room – we don’t have to walk down that path alone anymore.”
In celebrating Pride, Judge McKenzie said it’s important “to really remember the people who have come before us and to celebrate them … those trailblazers, they (demonstrated) anonymously and did it for us.”
Legal profession becoming more diverse
Julia Cornish QC, Society President in 2017-2018, told the gathering “the profession is changing, in its desire to accommodate and include and diversify,” noting that such matters are a crucial part of the Society’s Strategic Framework.
“Events like this serve to remind us to celebrate what has been accomplished, but also to focus on what to do next,” she said.
Judge McKenzie was practising at a Winnipeg law firm when he began his transition around 2011. He received much support from clients and colleagues during this time but also conceded that career-wise, he had plenty of self-doubt.
“I thought when I transitioned, my career was over. I thought any likelihood of my being a judge was over. I really did,” he told the spring 2017 edition of UM Today The Magazine, a University of Manitoba publication.
At the Pride Reception, Judge McKenzie – who has served as co-chair of the CBA’s national Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference – offered words of encouragement for the next generation of practitioners. He urged young lawyers and law students planning to take a similar path to be true to themselves and go for career opportunities when they arise.
“Once I did the things that I needed to do for myself and I was being true to myself, the world was open to me. And I was able to step forward and try,” he said. “The only thing ever holding me back was me.”
New annual parade tradition
During Pride week in 2016, the Society and the CBA’s Nova Scotia branch joined forces to begin a new annual tradition: walking in the Halifax Pride parade together as a profession. In 2016 and 2017, participants wore rainbow tabs and carried colourful signs proclaiming “Legally Proud” and “Lawyers Do It With Pride”.
The Society and CBA-NS are teaming up for the third year in a row, to walk in the 31st annual parade as a profession on Saturday, July 21, 2018. For details, see the event information on the CBA-NS website. Family and friends of NSBS and CBA members are also welcome.
Past Pride highlights
- 14th Annual Pride Reception – Colin Druhan, Pride at Work Canada (2016)
- 13th Annual Pride Reception – Craig Scott, former law professor, MP for Toronto – Danforth (2015)
- 12th Annual Pride Reception – Hershel Russell, Trans Health Connection (2014)
- 11th Annual Pride Reception – Michael Battista, ÉGALE Canada (2013)
- 10th Annual Pride Reception – Robert Leckey, Dean, McGill University Faculty of Law (2012)
- 9th Annual Pride Reception – Pooja Gehi, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, New York (2011)
- 8th Annual Pride Reception – the Hon. Judge J. Gary Cohen, Provincial Court of British Columbia (2010)
- 7th Annual Pride Reception – Kenneth J. Upton, Jr., Lambda Legal, Texas (2009)
- 6th Annual Pride Reception – the Hon. Mr. Justice David L. Corbett, Ontario Superior Court (2008)
Article by Michael Lightstone, Freelancer, with files from the NSBS Communications Office