Transgender people in B.C. win a battle over identity

A policy change underway at the Ministry of Health will remove one barrier to official recognition of gender identity for transgender people in British Columbia, the Times Colonist has learned.

Sex reassignment surgery will no longer be required before the sex designation associated with a person’s B.C. Services Card can be changed, according to the ministry.

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The new policy should take effect by the end of the year, a spokesman said, but the ministry could not specify a date. Health Minister Terry Lake was not available for an interview.

B.C. Services Cards began replacing CareCards in February, and the planned change arose during the discussions surrounding that transition, according to the spokesman.

The news comes three weeks after a 10-year-old transgender girl from Comox and her grandmother began campaigning for the same change to other official identification.

Harriette Cunningham said she always knew she was a girl, even if she was born with a boy’s body. But she gets anxious every time she crosses the border, because her passport, which says she is male, does not match the way she looks and feels.

“I want to explain myself,” she said at the time, “but I think it’s my right not to have to.”

Harriette’s grandmother Cathie Dickens said in an email that the ideal would be to remove sex designation from official identification in general.

Her father Colin said: “It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

While sex designation is not printed on a CareCard or B.C. Services Card, it appears in the medical service plan computer system. Currently, in order to change the sex designation, a copy of an updated birth certificate, which can only be changed after surgery, must be presented.

New criteria for requesting a change has not yet been determined.

“We’re still working on the policy,” the ministry spokesman said.

The change would bring B.C. policy closer to that of Ontario, where a human rights tribunal ruled last year that requiring surgery before allowing someone to change his or her sex designation was discriminatory.

In Ontario, a person can now change the sex listed on his or her identification, including birth certificates, with a letter from a physician or psychologist.

The change in policy also better reflects the understanding that gender is fluid. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation defines transgender as an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.

“Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically,” according to the alliance.

NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, a frequent defender of LGBT civil rights, said the move to match B.C. Services Cards to transgender identity is a sign of progress. “It’s encouraging to hear they’re considering this,” he said.

But he said the transgender community should be consulted before any changes are made.

There are also still big barriers to full recognition of transgender people’s identities, he said.

Even with the change, surgery will still be required before changes can be made to other pieces of identification, including birth certificates, which provide the basis for many other forms of identification, such as passports.

But since birth certificates are covered by the Vital Statistics Act, that regulation can’t be changed without a sitting of the legislature.

“Basically, they’re hamstrung because the Liberals refuse to come to the legislature. If they really want to do this, then they should come in and change the legislation and be fair to everybody,” Chandra Herbert said.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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