At the 27th Annual Burton D. Wechsler National First Amendment Moot Court Competition that the Washington College of Law hosted virtually at American University in October, Madeline Townsenda law student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Law Schoolwon Best Oralist. She may be the first openly transgender student to win that title at such a competition.
Townsend was born in Southern California. Growing up, she and her family moved around the state, onto rural Washington and San Antonio, Texas.
"My mother has been a huge inspiration to me my whole life," Townsend told Windy City Times. "Having had cancer when Townsend was just a few months old and then heart problems when she was a teen, Townsend said "she's one of the kindest and most caring people I have ever met in the whole entire world and has just persevered through all of it to give me and my brother a better life and so I try to live up to her memory every day… to who she is."
Townsend started her undergraduate years thinking she was going to be a physicist or a mathematician. Eventually, she got into a Ph.D. program at UIC for math. Now in law school at UIC, she is on track to graduate in May 2022.
"I really enjoy abstract logical reasoning and all of the different ways it manifests," said Townsend on what drives her. "Like working through a problem."
Outside of her studies, Townsend said she is a massive Dungeons and Dragons fan.
Upon coming into law school, the thing she said that really kick-started her passion was a focus on unions and labor rights.
"So initially that was where I was really focused, but one part of that that I had found really meaningful was basically unions and the labor movement as a vehicle for civil rights and for social change and for protecting the rights of marginalized people within workplaces and within unions, but one of the things we were pushing for was increased better language in our contract around disability rights to more explicitly acknowledge people with not physical disabilities, 'cause those often get very dismissed, those were getting dismissed a lot by professors or staff, and get protections around immigration status and arrest records and things like that," said Townsend.
She added within her focus on labor movements she is passionate about organizing groups of people, community organizing, and workplace organizing to advocate for change.
"So, since coming to law school, some of the things I've been most passionate about are labor still, but also areas like protecting, protesting and organizing and civil rights and advocating for civil rights in different contexts," she said.
Townsend credits her moot court coachProfessor Joanne Hodge, who teaches at her schoolas major support.
"I don't think I could have done this without the help of the coach of our team Professor Joanne Hodge at UIC Law," said Townsend of her recent award. "She was just tireless in coaching us to be better."
Townsend was a coach for another team this semester.
"There is community and there are people you can find who will care about you, and will try to protect you and will join you in fighting for liberty and for justice and that sense of community is a very wonderful thing and something I'm always proud to be a part of and get to be," Townsend said of being a transwoman in the legal field.
The legal field, she said, needs to continue increasing protections for trans lawyers.
"Even in Illinoiswhich we like to pride ourselves on being a very liberal, very progressive statewe're actually very far behind in the legal field when it comes to protecting transgender attorneys," she said. "We're one of a small number of statesthere's a professional code for being an attorneyand we do not have protections around gender identity-based discrimination or treatments within the legal profession within the ARDC [Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission] … so that's actually something being fought for and being litigated at the moment."
She gave an example of behavior that's allowed but which she deems unacceptable: "It's not against the professional conduct, as it's currently understood, for the other attorney to intentionally misgender and deadname and do other kind of crappy things to you based on your gender identity in order to throw you off your game and negotiate a more favorable deal for his client or to get a better outcome in court or for clerks of the court to refuse to use your legal name if you get a name change.
"That's an unacceptable way for things to be and we, as advocates for our clients, shouldn't have to experience that."