Gemma Hickey is a graduate student in MUN’s Gender Studies program. Hickey identifies as an activist, a feminist, and a non-binary Trans person. This means that Hickey does not identify with either of the traditional binary assignments that society associates with gender. Instead of identifying as either a male or female, Hickey prefers to identify them self as non-binary in gender, and uses neutral pronouns such as they and them.
Hickey is not the first person to identify outside of the traditional gender binaries in Newfoundland and Labrador, but they were the first person to attempt to apply for a non-binary birth certificate in Newfoundland and Labrador, which would have a gender marker of ‘x’.
“Essentially people who identify as non-binary have been erased from society.” Hickey said. “There is an emphasis on binary, one or the other… You have that place to identify as male or female, but what if you do not?”
In a 2014 Supreme Court ruling, it was decided that Trans persons in Newfoundland and Labrador have the right to change their gender marker on their birth certificate from that which was assigned to them at birth to the other binary gender marker that they now identify with. Although this ruling was a big step in the direction for equality for the Trans community, it neglected to represent those who did not identify with either binary gender listed.
On April 12, 2017, Hickey went to vital statistics and filled out a form to request a birth certificate with a neutral gender marker. Since only traditional binary genders were listed on the form, Hickey wrote in their own non-binary gender category and attached a cover letter explaining their proposal.
Hickey’s request could not be processed at the time that it was made. Essentially, there was no precedent set in regards to how and where to progress further in the situation at that point in time. In June of 2016, Bill C-16 was passed in federal jurisdiction making it law that persons cannot be discriminated against based on their gender identity or expression in Canada. In reality, the fact that the provincial government does not allow for some people to identify outside the gender binary could be considered an act of discrimination.
“There is a lot of red tape, a lot of bureaucracy.” said Hickey. It was not that the province was refusing to process Hickey’s request, it was that at that time in point, there was no paperwork or procedure to abide by in order to attempt to process the request.
Hickey and their lawyer Brittany Whalen of Bob Buckingham law filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court against the provincial government in order to have legislation around the issue of non-binary birth certificates changed or created in some circumstances. Hickey and Whalen were prepared to return to court on November 22, 2017 to progress with this case, however after a delay requested by the provincial government of Newfoundland, which was made on September 21, 2017, the Provincial Government made a change based on Hickey’s affidavit. As of September 21, 2017, any Newfoundland resident could request a non-binary birth certificate from vital statistics, and the request would be processed.
Hickey maintains a court date in December at which point they will return with their lawyer to receive and review a status update on the other stipulations that they had requested in their initial affidavit. The change in the application progress process of obtaining a non-binary birth certificate was made immediately, but other requests made by Hickey require re-writing or the creation of legislation.
The other stipulations requested by Hickey are that: 1. Persons do not have to provide a doctor’s note to validate their own gender identity. 2. Anyone over the age of 16 is able to apply for a gender-neutral birth certificate without parental consent.
“I refuse to provide a doctor note. Identity is a very personal thing,” says Hickey. “I believe requiring a doctor note pathologizes [SIC] gender identity and gender expression in a way that makes us like… we need to be medically treated. We need the validation of a doctor to confirm our identity and I can do that on my own.”
On August 31, the Canadian government began to offer neutral ‘X’ gender markers on Canadian passports. In July 2017, the Northwest Territories became the very first place in Canada to offer gender-neutral birth certificates, and Ontario has been issuing gender-neutral licenses and health cards for some time now.
“I feel very happy and validated. Not that I need the government to validate me, but at the same time… it is continuing a conversation about whether sex and gender still belong in the same category.” Hickey stated.
Students who may be struggling with their own issues regarding gender identity are encouraged speak with the gender studies department here at Memorial University, or SAGA (The Sexuality and Gender Advocacy group formerly known as LBGTMUN) at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on Camp Eclipse, the only Trans youth camp offered in Newfoundland visit plannedparenthoodnlshc.com
Editor’s note: in the original post it was stated that the supreme court of Newfoundland made a ruling in Hickey’s favour.