Madeline Johnson, one of Missouri’s first openly transgender attorneys, primarily focuses on representing LGBTQ clients. Her practice covers multiple areas of law that often relate to LGBTQ rights, such as employment, education, civil rights and occasionally family law.
Johnson also represents clients in name and gender-marker changes, which she considers her favorite cases because she ultimately shares in their euphoria upon obtaining court documentation validating their identities.
“I’m in a privileged position as an attorney, and privileged to represent persons who need access to legal representation when they’ve been discriminated against or when they’re needing documentation to support their identity and support who they are,” she said. “Those are really the two most motivating factors for me in my practice of law.”
Johnson sits on the board of directors of KC LEGAL, the association for the LGBT and allied legal community in Kansas City, among other advocacy work. Before becoming an attorney, Johnson was a Germanic scholar in the 1990s, studying at the University of Augsburg, Germany, on a Fulbright Fellowship and earning a master’s in German literature. She is a U.S. Army veteran who served as a translator and intelligence analyst from 1986-90.
What motivates you most in your work as an attorney and as an advocate for Diversity & Inclusion?
I am motivated by representing others like myself who are transgender and seeking equal protection of the laws so we may simply be who we are. It is about the fundamental right to self-identification.
How do you give back to your community?
I give back by volunteering for the various boards I have served on and occasional pro bono representation of transgender minors involved with the family court who need name and gender-marker changes or document updates.
What goal remains unfulfilled for you as an attorney and advocate for Diversity & Inclusion?
Complete equal protection under the law for transgender persons and the freedom to be who we are — there is much work to do. There remain a number of issues to tackle beyond the recent SCOTUS recognition of protections in employment discrimination under Title VII, such as bathroom access, participation in athletics, dress codes and particularly exclusions in health care for necessary procedures related to sex/gender transition.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you:
I struggled with gender identity for more than four decades before finally coming out and allowing myself to express and live in the gender I feel myself to be inside. When I came out, I was terrified of being rejected by judges, court personnel, other attorneys and clients, but none of those fears came true (at least not displayed openly to me). After transition, I have been a better attorney and better advocate for my clients because I am free to be me without the cloud of confusion about my identity hanging over my head. Every year since, I have seen steady growth in my practice because I am continuing to grow as a person and advocate. I like to joke that my gender transition turned out to be a good business decision.