By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario made a “long overdue” decision earlier this month, striking down a rule that requires transgendered persons to have “transsexual surgery” in order to change their sex designation on birth certificates.
Tabi Brown, a local transgendered community member, said that while it’s something she tried to get going a couple of years ago to no avail, she’s “damn glad somebody finally did.”
Although she said she’s “cautiously optimistic,” Brown said many community members are excited about the change. “They see it as a bright shining light.”
The tribunal’s decision, which was released on April 11, came after a transsexual woman (the applicant) claimed the process of changing sex designation discriminated against her, based on her sexual orientation. But following the tribunal’s order, the province has 180 days to revise its criteria for birth certificates.
N. Nicole Nussbaum, a London lawyer, said she thinks the decision found that trans people are differentially impacted by a policy that requires surgery before you can have identification documents that reflect who you are.
“For trans people, especially those who can’t afford, can’t access, aren’t medically eligible for or don’t need surgery, the surgical requirement is certainly, to my mind, an unfair barrier to having consistent identification,” she said, adding while it’s needed to change birth certificates in this province, surgery isn’t necessary to change sex designation on an Ontario driver’s licence.
“That leads to a situation where people have basically contradictory identification and that can lead to people being “outed,” which in turn leads to vulnerability, to discrimination in the workplace, in housing, etc.”
Davina Hader, an executive member of the Trans Lobby Group, agreed, adding it’s nearly impossible to obtain basic services in Ontario without humiliation and hassles without having your sex designation the same on both your driver’s licence and birth certificate.
“Many health care services right now don’t have a lot of knowledge and are skeptical to treat people,” she said. “So, when you come in with documentation that’s totally different, it becomes very difficult to even obtain (services and) many people even abstain from getting services for medical purposes.”
Birth certificates are used to get health cards, which wouldn’t necessarily have the same designation that’s present on driver’s licences.
Hader added there are also housing, employment and, in come cases, mental health problems that can result from that conundrum.
“This is a definite win in initially getting documentation so that you can continue your life without having all of these harassments or health problems to further complicate things.”
Hader added the tribunal’s decision is something the Trans Lobby Group has been hoping would get accomplished. She noted the group is currently working towards getting gender identity into the human rights code.
Nussbaum said the tribunal’s decision cut down on the amount of time the lobby group would have had to spend trying to get the decision mandated. She added this decision could represent an increase in awareness by the general public.
“I think this reflects, perhaps, a shift in knowledge and understanding of the issues that trans people face and some of the challenges that exist on a bureaucratic level to being able to participate fully in society,” she said.
Brown agreed, adding she hopes the decision will help force change in society.
“A lot of people think education is the way to do it and that does to a point,” she said. “But to actually force change through, you have to do it through legislation.
“If the government says that we are who we say we are and we’re accepted by the government, then it’s quicker for society to follow the same route.”
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