“I have a right to my nonbinary birth certificate.”
Canadian birth certificates label everyone as either male or female, but what if you’re neither?
Gemma Hickey, an activist in St. John's, Newfoundland, is nonbinary, but despite requesting a change, their birth certificate is still emblazoned with an “F.” Now they're going to the courts to get it done.
Forty-year-old Hickey, who runs an arts program for at-risk youth, once identified as a cisgender lesbian. Then, two years ago, they walked across the province to raise awareness for clergy abuse. Being so in touch with their body brought a new realization.
“It was at that point that I realized that I’m actually transgender and that I don’t really identify as either male or female,” Hickey told BuzzFeed Canada.
Hickey wanted their government documents to reflect their identity, so last April they made an official request to get a nonbinary birth certificate from Newfoundland Vital Statistics. Weeks later Hickey got a phone call saying the province was exploring its options, but a new birth certificate wasn't coming anytime soon.
“My application wasn’t so much denied as delayed,” Hickey said. “But by delaying, they’re denying.”
They're now taking the province to court to make it happen, with the first hearing date coming up later this month. Hickey went through similar efforts in the early '00s to make same-sex marriage legal, and knew that court was the “the only real option.”
“As far as I'm concerned, there should be no issue giving someone a birth certificate that’s nonbinary,” said Hickey.
Hickey was the first person in Newfoundland to apply for a nonbinary birth certificate, and they’ve inspired Joshua M. Ferguson to do the same in Ontario.
Ferguson (who has contributed to BuzzFeed Canada) applied for a nonbinary birth certificate on May 12, but was also told the option is simply unavailable right now. They got the news in a letter.
“I opened the letter and honestly felt sick when I read it,” Ferguson told BuzzFeed Canada.
They were told the province is “working to develop a gender-neutral option for the Ontario birth certificate and is currently conducting a policy review.” A timeframe was not provided.
Ontario offers a gender-neutral “x” designation on drivers' licenses. Ferguson doesn't understand why the same can't be done for birth certificates.
“I was expecting that the Ontario government would follow their own provincial law, which is to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression,” Ferguson told BuzzFeed Canada. “I have a right to my nonbinary birth certificate.”
“My incorrect IDs work to reinforce a transphobic perspective that I don’t exist — that all nonbinary people don’t exist.”
Ferguson said they have retained legal representation and are considering their next steps. Both Ferguson and Hickey said they've received numerous messages of support from other nonbinary people eager to see change.
“I will never give up fighting for my right to be recognized,” said Ferguson.
Joshua M. Ferguson