Outing For Amendment: St. John’s Trans Activist Challenges Heteronormative Legislation


St. John’s Transgender Activist Kyra Rees

Presenting government identification is such a routine practice in our everyday lives that many of us begin to take it’s importance for granted. We often overlook what the procedure could mean for others who live and identify outside of the claustrophobic formality that is the twofold sex designation on all official government identification.

With little to no breathing room for transgender individuals who do not or cannot opt for Sex Reassignment Surgery, an inability to alter this component of one’s birth certificate can lead to the high anxiety of being outed in situations which necessitate identification, or being subjected to the harassment of additional screening by security in such circumstances as crossing a border or boarding a plane.

Kyra Rees is the 22 year-old transgender activist from St. John’s who, with her lawyer Kyle Rees, is heading to court and challenging the Provincial government to amend the outdated heteronormative regulations of the Vital Statistics Act.

We recently chatted with Kyra to learn a bit about the current case for amendment, and what the outcome would mean for the transgender community.

Service NL refused to grant you permission to change your sex designation on your birth certificate and thereby gender on other documentation; this leads to a chain of limitations– having official ID that doesn’t match your gender expression, and can single you out immediately in commonplace situations where presenting identification is necessary.

What does this mean for you in your day-to-day life, or for other transgender people in your situation?

Kyra: It can mean a lot of uncertainties in everyday activities; from returning unwanted merchandise, to booking a hotel room, to buying alcohol or getting into a bar– the amount of times we present photo ID in daily life is more than most cisgender people notice. It can also affect and limit vacation plans, which is particularly salient to me, as I recently traveled to two provinces over this summer for a wedding and to reunite with old friends. As a result, I had to go through airport security four separate times and the anxiety was agonizing; wondering whether I would be “selected for additional screening” due to the mismatch on my ID. Luckily, no such instances occurred, but had they it could’ve been devastating as there have been instances within the last 2 years where trans people have even been imprisoned or refused their flights for documentation not matching presentation.

The current Vital Statistics Act deems a change in “anatomical [genital] arrangement” necessary for a change in sex designation on birth certificates and other identification. Is it only Ontario and Alberta that have had a formal amendment of the law as of yet?

Kyra: To my knowledge Alberta and Ontario are the only provinces or territories where SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery) is not required for change of sex designation on one’s birth certificate.

Are you aware of any other cases in Atlantic Canada or abroad where the Law is being challenged in a similar fashion?

Kyra: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, BC and now our province (NL) have legal challenges before them, which were all filed by trans folks themselves or their parents, as is the case in two of the challenges who are youth. Internationally, in Australia the government has allowed people to petition for “X” on their passport for those who identify outside the gender binary or who have shifted genders. Similar advancements have been made in a swath of nations, including India and Sweden to name just two.

What do you think should be the ideal procedures in our Province, and in our Country for a legal change of gender?

Kyra: In my opinion we need to end our obsession with gatekeeping and making excuses for systems that clearly no longer work. There are more than two genders, there are more than a hundred! How we can express our genders is truly infinite. The instance that there can only be two, or even three for statistical reasons is folly, and even if it does have merit than it does not outweigh my right or another trans person’s right to dignity, privacy, and safety. I believe a sworn declaration taken with informed consent should be sufficient. Should not adults and competent youth be entitled to determine how they identify and want to be “counted” for the aforementioned statistical purposes? How is “M” on my birth certificate more accurate for statistical purposes? If they use this data for anything, is it not more accurate to have how I move through the world–which is closer to “F” than it is “M”–be written down somewhere, particularly if it endangers my safety, security, and dignity not to? In any case I cannot be the sole consultant on this matter, our government needs to have a full public consultation with trans activists and experts here in NL to determine the best practices, terminology, etc.

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