B.C. bill facilitates gender identity changes

The B.C. government introduced a bill Monday to remove a significant road-block for British Columbians whose official identification does not match their gender identity.

The amendment to the Vital Statistics Act would remove sex reassignment surgery as a requirement for changing the “male” or “female” on a birth certificate. It was introduced as part of Bill 17, a Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act that amends several laws at once.

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Under the amendment, a person wishing to change the sex designation must submit an application; a declaration that the applicant has assumed, identifies with and intends to maintain the gender identity that corresponds with the desired sex designation; and a statement from a registered physician or psychologist. The minister may also waive or modify any of those requirements, if it would be in the applicant’s best interest.

The amendment would bring B.C. in line with Ontario, which became the first jurisdiction in Canada to allow trans people to change their sex designation on a birth certificate without sex reassignment surgery in October 2012. It followed a ruling by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal that called the surgery requirement “substantively discriminatory.”

Dara Parker, executive director of Vancouver-based queer resource centre Qmunity, said it’s a change the community has been working toward.

It’s difficult to access gender affirmation surgery, so being able to change the sex designation on IDs will make life easier for transgender people by affirming their gender.

“Some would argue that having gender markers that are correct would have more of a positive impact on a daily basis in terms of their interactions at everything from the library to crossing the border. That makes it safer and therefore better.”

She also said not all trans or gender non-conforming people want surgery.

“There’s a whole range of people along the gender spectrum, so some people might want to engage in hormone therapy and may not identify with the sex assigned a birth, but may not want to access top surgery or bottom surgery. So the gender markers might be more important and distinct from having gender affirmation surgery.”

Health Minister Terry Lake said government decided to move on the issue because of human rights cases both here and in Ontario.

“There’s a couple of human rights cases in B.C. that are going through the process,” he said. “But we hadn’t updated the act for a long time and I think once you see the way the world is moving, jurisdictions tend to move in that direction in a relatively short period of time of each other. So we saw what was going in in Ontario and we think it’s the right thing to do.”

He said similar changes will be made to other government identity cards, from drivers’ licences to B.C. Services Cards.

“We’re trying to make it consistent across the board,” he said.

Lake said the case of Harriette Cunningham, an 11-year-old transgender girl from Comox, is one of the cases before the ministry.

“In this act, you will still require the permission of parents and guardians for children that are minors,” he said. “We think it’s important that parents play a role in this type of decision.”

A lawyer for the Cunninghams said the amendment isn’t enough. The Cunninghams have filed a human rights complaint against the province, asking that gender markers be removed from birth certificates entirely.

“This is a frustrating half-step forward,” said lawyer barbara findlay, who spells her name in lowercase. “While it is certainly better for children like Harriette Cunningham to be able to change her birth certificate, the legislation ignores the situation of gender-variant or intersex children whose gender can never be captured by ‘M’ or ‘F’,” she said.

Egale Canada, a national LGBT advocacy group, has also criticized the required doctor’s note an additional barrier. Many trans people don’t have adequate access to health care and many doctors aren’t adequately trained.

“To sustain the current practice of tying in any way the criteria for changing one’s sex designation to verification from health-care professionals would in fact uphold a severe form of discrimination against trans people,” the organization wrote as a consultant to the Ontario government in 2012.

NDP MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert said there’s more work to be done, but celebrated the change as a step in the right direction.

“I give full credit to Harriette because her story was so compelling. I think it helped push change in a way that we hadn’t been able to do before.”

Laurissa Chapple, executive director of South Island Pride, said the amendment is a good thing, but should have happened sooner.

“At the end of the day, nobody likes to be told that they are something that they are not,” she said.

— With files from Lindsay Kines

asmart@timescolonist.com

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