Canada’s Transgender Children Face Bureaucratic Hurdles


Canada is far ahead of the U.S. in terms of LGBT rights on many metrics: our neighbors to the North enjoy nationwide marriage equality, same-sex adoption rights and discrimination protection based on sexual orientation, as well as protections for anti-trans discrimination in some provinces.  In addition, Canada's military allows military service for LGB and T people.  But as one young transgender girl's story shows, that doesn't mean LGBTs aren't still facing hardships in the country.  The Globe and Mail reports:

At the age of 10, Harriette Cunningham has already cleared the hurdles of telling her family and classmates that she is not the boy identified on her birth certificate. Getting the Canadian bureaucracy to acknowledge that, however, is an anxiety-filled challenge.

With the support of her family, Harriette is pressing for legislative change so that transgender children and youth can change their passport or birth certificate to reflect their gender identity. Whether crossing the border or signing up for gymnastics, she says her official identification is causing her stress.

By law, the Grade 5 pupil in the small community of Comox, on Vancouver Island, cannot change her birth certificate until she is old enough to have sex-reassignment surgery. Her birth certificate identifies her as Declan Forrest Cunningham, but her family has filed the paperwork to change her legal name to Harriette Camille Cunningham.

Harriette's father, Colin, sees the sex-reassignment surgery operation requirement as unnecessary and misguided.  "The problem arises when people think transgendered issues are to do with sexual orientation," he told the Globe and Mail. "She’s 10 years old – she’s not thinking about that."

In the United States, laws pertaining to the alteration of one's sex on a birth certificate vary on a state-by-state basis.  Some states do not require reassignment surgery to make such a change; some states require surgery.  Five states refuse to change birth certificates under any circumstances.

As the Transgender Law Center's website points out, California courts–for example–allow trans individuals to obtain court orders recognizing their gender change as long as they have a note from their physician affirming they have gone through "clinically appropriate treatment" for gender transition.  The decision as to what that phrase means is left to a patient and his or her doctor.

In California, an un-emancipated minor like Harriette would need a parent or legal guardian to file an application for a gender change on his or her behalf.

(photo courtesy of Karen McKinnon and the Cunningham family)