Rule changes allow hundreds to update their gender on N.S. identification -

Rule changes allow hundreds to update their gender on N.S. identification

A steadily increasing number of Nova Scotians are electing to change their gender markers on provincial identification.

An anonymized list shows 709 Nova Scotians were approved for changes from the beginning of 2007 to May of this year. 

“To look at some of those documents with the proper gender marker is a real moment of euphoria,” said Shae Morse, who changed their gender marker in 2019. 

“It’s actually quite hard to describe what that feels like, when you had to deal with a gender marker that doesn’t fit for most of your life.”

Before 2015, Nova Scotians needed to have gender-confirming surgery and letters from two health professionals to switch their gender marker from ‘F’ to ‘M’ or vice versa. 

Legislation was a barrier

“There were numerous barriers to getting your gender marker updated,” said Allison Smith, who helped lead community consultations on gender amendments to the province’s Vital Statistics Act. 

“This was a daunting experience to go through,” she said. “To have to go to medical offices, get those letters of confirmation, and in some cases, beg for those letters of confirmation.” 

These challenges are reflected by the statistics. From 2007 until the legislation was amended in 2015, only 39 people were successful in changing their gender markers, an average of 4.3 people a year. 

Allison Smith helped lead consultations with trans and non-binary Nova Scotians leading up to reforms to the province’s Vital Statistics Act. (Jack Julian/CBC)

Smith says she heard stories of transgender people being challenged when buying a bottle of wine at a government liquor store. 

“A cashier notices that your gender doesn’t seem to align with how you express yourself in the world, and then the person is getting asked intrusive questions about their body parts,” Smith said. 

Then in 2015, the province dropped the prerequisite for gender-confirming surgery, and required only one professional confirmation letter. 

The next year, 131 people changed their designations, with an average of 90.4 approvals per year until 2019. 

Smith says the immediate rush confirmed what she heard from transgender people during her public consultations. 

“It was absolutely legislation,” Smith said. 

Next steps

Then two years ago, in July 2019, the provincial government reformed the Vital Statistics Act a second time. 

The requirement for any medical approval was eliminated and the government waived all fees. 

“Especially removing the barrier for cost was a big deal,” Morse said, who teaches high school and also works as an educator on gender issues. “That was really what finally led me to that decision.”

Smith says trusting Nova Scotians to know their own gender was both a logistical improvement and a vital symbolic act. 

“Nobody else knows what your gender is, you know what your gender is,” Smith said. 

At the same time, the province introduced a new gender marker: X.

The X was Morse’s choice. 

“I feel like the X really suits who I am as a person, so it works well for me. I’m just glad that that option is available for other folks to take advantage of,” they said. 

Numbers seem low 

A psychologist who works with the IWK Trans Health Team says only 709 ID changes seems low to her. 

Ann Marie Joyce says studies from Northern Europe indicates the population of trans and non-binary is about one per cent of the population, or roughly 10,000 people in Nova Scotia.

In April, Statistics Canada revealed Nova Scotia has the highest proportion of people in the country who identified themselves as trans or non-binary on the 2021 census. 

It said 4,800 people in Halifax are trans or non-binary. 

The new provincial numbers show that out of 709 gender changes: 364 people changed from F to M; 293 changed from M to F; 39 changed from F to X; and 13 changed from M to X. 

Joyce says those patterns are interesting to see, though the variations could be random. 

More change needed

The deputy registrar general of Nova Scotia says she’s glad a greater number of Nova Scotians able to update their official gender with the government. 

“It makes me really happy,” Krista Dewey said. “What we have been on a path to do is have our legislation and regulation reflect and respect the needs of Nova Scotians.”

But Smith says other legislative barriers still need to be removed, such as the requirement to be fingerprinted to change your name. 

“Just like with gender markers being updated, many trans, non-binary, and gender diverse people also want to update their names,” she said. 

“We know that that queer and trans people have historically poor relations with the police,” she said. “That makes it very daunting, that makes it terrifying.” 

There is also a requirement to publish a person’s old and new legal name in the province’s Royal Gazette.

“They quite understandably want to be more secretive about their identity because they don’t know what kind of experiences they’re going to have in the world,” Smith said. 

“They don’t know if their employer is going to find out and that they’ll be outed in the workplace. They don’t know if their community is going to be supportive or not. So for many people, it’s safer to fly under the radar.”

tags: #Rule #hundreds #update #gender #N.S #identification

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