CLE credit for a lecture on transgender identity was revoked earlier this month by Minnesota Continuing Legal Education because its contents did not conform to the application earlier approved by the board and did not meet CLE criteria. It appears to be the first time the CLE board has ever revoked credits.
The putative CLE was a lecture presented at the St. Paul Seminary as part of a daylong religious symposium in December 2017. The lecture, event code 251074, was called “Understanding and Responding to the Transgender Moment/St. Paul.” The contents were posted on You Tube.
Some viewers, including members of the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association, believed that understanding and responding were not the aims of the speaker, but that “discriminatory and transphobic messaging” were, said MLBA board member Hillary Taylor in an email to Minnesota lawyer.
On December 14, 2017, the MLBA submitted an opposition letter notifying the Minnesota State Board of Continuing Legal Education that such programming failed to (i) meet CLE general standards; (ii) meet criteria that would qualify such programming for any of the special categories, including elimination of bias, that may qualify for CLE credit; and, (iii) support both MBCLE and Minnesota State Bar Association’s efforts to advance diversity and inclusion.
The MLBA was supported by the Minnesota State Bar Association, Minnesota Women Lawyers and others, Taylor said. The MLBA’s reaction was excitement, relief and a sense of hope that actions will continue to match up with policies, she said. “Discrimination is not legal education,” she said. Taylor credited MLBA board member Sarah Zabel’s “compelling message regarding the dignity of transgender people and the painful repercussions of transphobic rhetoric.”
Upon examination, the CLE board concluded that the course did not provide the content for which it was approved and was only 38 minutes long instead of a full CLE hour, said attorney Nancy MacLean, chair of the CLE board. The board then made a second unprecedented decision, which was to release the application for credit that was submitted by University of St. Thomas professor Teresa Collette. That information confirmed that the course was approved for elimination of bias credit. “I was shocked,” Taylor said.
The application named the University of St. Thomas Prolife Center with the address of the law school, 1000 LaSalle Ave., as the sponsor. Collett is the director of the center and also teaches wills and estates and supervised legal research and writing.
The lavender bar asserted that the course did not meet general standards for CLE approval. It shared its objections with the CLE board in December, based on publicly available information about the speaker and the lecture, although the You Tube video was not then available. The video is now online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbGZnnSIjbA&=&t=1s.
First off, the lecture “Understanding and Responding to the Transgender Moment” presumably did not “deal primarily with matter directly related to the practice of law, the professional responsibility or ethical obligations of lawyers, … law office management, or the professional development of lawyers” as required by CLE Rule 5A(2). (Emphasis in original.) MLBA believes Anderson’s lecture likely focused primarily on non-legal content, drawing on debunked “biology, psychology, and philosophy” to argue harmfully that transgender people are “getting human nature wrong,” the lavender bar wrote in its Dec. 14 letter.
It also said the lecture does not qualify for special categories of CLE, such as ethics or elimination of bias. “Indeed, the focus of the lecture and overall symposium was a criticism of transgender identities cloaked in religious messaging—i.e., a direct bias against transgender people,” the bar said.
Third, and perhaps most important, the MBCLE should not endorse a discriminatory and transphobic lecture by approving it for CLE credit, the bar wrote. That is contrary to the diversity efforts undertaken by Minnesota CLE and the MSBA. Also, the Rules of Professional Conduct require that lawyers not participate in harassing behavior. Rule 8.4 (g) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, has amended the rule to include gender identity in its list of protected classes, the bar pointed out, although the rule has not yet been adopted in Minnesota.
Approval of the course could have opened floodgates to future CLEs that are designed to unpin concerted efforts within the legal profession to eliminate biases against any protected class, the bar also wrote. “The language of the presentation encourages bias by arguing against the identities [of transgender people], Taylor said.
When the video became available, the lavender bar felt it was vindicated. When the application materials were released on May 22, their position was confirmed.
The speaker, Ryan Anderson, never named a case or referred to the law, Taylor said. CLE board chair Nancy McLean agreed, saying legal issues were not discussed in the seminar and therefore the content of the seminar did not match the application.
“I thought the process worked exactly as it should work,” McLean said. With 12,000 to 15,000 applications for CLE credit submitted annually, the staff and the board must rely on the facts in the application and ask for more information when needed.
Anderson is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. His most recent book is “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.” On his Facebook page he writes, “[M]odern medicine cannot reassign sex physically, and attempting to do so does not produce good outcomes psychosocially. Transgender medicine is based on a transgender worldview. But the worldview promoted by transgender activists is inherently confused and filled with internal contradictions.” The page also says in a book review that people who experience gender dysphoria deserve to be treated with compassion, kindness and respect.
In his lecture, Anderson said that the Christian community is one of “truth-tellers” and that other sources of information would be unreliable. “The church and only the church will tell the truth on these issues,” he said.