Brantford transgender woman rejected by Canadian Forces

A Brantford woman says the Canadian Forces has denied her application to join the reserves purely because she is transgender — a move that seemingly flies in the face of the military’s recent push to promote inclusivity in its ranks.

Kennedy McArthur says she wanted to prove U.S. President Donald Trump wrong about transgender people

Kennedy McArthur says she decided she wanted to join the Canadian military after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a ban on transgender personnel in America. McArthur says she was then rejected because she is transgender. (Adam Carter/CBC)

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  • The Canadian Armed Forces says it made a mistake with Kennedy McArthur's application.

A Brantford, Ont., woman says the Canadian Forces has denied her application to join the reserves purely because she is transgender — a move that seemingly flies in the face of the military's recent push to promote inclusivity within its ranks.

Kennedy McArthur, 24, feels like she's had a door slammed in her face for the sole reason that she's not like everyone else.

"They promote inclusiveness and acceptance, and when you get treated like this — you can't help but feel it's because you're different," she said.

Officials with the military say they won't speak directly about McArthur's application because of "privacy concerns," but did say that in general, the armed forces does not accept applicants who are in the midst of transitioning. 

That explanation makes no sense to McArthur, as she and her doctor both say she has finished the process.

"I just feel like I was dealt an injustice," she told CBC News.

Her quest to join the reserves in the Brantford 56 Field Artillery started last summer, after U.S. President Donald Trump issued a contentious ban on transgender people serving in America's military. That move has since been tied up in legal purgatory, as multiple federal courts have ruled against it.

The Canadian Forces used Trump's initial announcement of the ban to promote its own recruiting efforts:

"That just kind of drove me," McArthur said. "I just said, 'You know what? I'm going to go prove I can do it.'

"It was a bit of a passion enlistment, but I still got invested and put all the work in. Things were going good. I beat every test they threw at me."

Devastated by rejection letter

After months of physical and mental testing, the last step of her enlistment was medical clearance. McArthur's doctor assured her everything seemed in order — but then, one morning in December, McArthur woke up to a rejection letter.

The letter, which McArthur shared with CBC News, reads, "The information that you have provided indicates that you have been diagnosed with gender [dysphoria] for which you require medication (Estradiol). We regret to inform you that because of this you do not meet the principles of Universality of Service and thus the Common Enrolment Medical Standards as described above."

According to the Canadian Forces' website, an applicant must be able to perform their duties "with minimal or no medical support," and "perform effectively without critical medication." 

"I was pretty devastated," McArthur said. "Not to ham it up or anything, but I invested a lot of time in that process … it was looking promising."

Kennedy McArthur explains why her military rejection letter has hit her so hard 0:45

McArthur then took the letter to her doctor — who just happens to be one of the region's most pre-eminent voices for transgender rights and health care.

A trans woman herself, Dr. Carys Massarella works as an emergency physician at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton, and is also the lead physician at Quest Community Health Centre in St. Catharines, which specializes in transgender care.

Massarella told CBC News that she was floored when she saw the rejection letter.

"There's no reason in my opinion, from a medical perspective, to reject Kennedy as a candidate for the Canadian military," she said. "To me, it seems to completely fly in the face of what this government and what the Canadian military has been talking about for the last several years."

Applicants must be 'fully transitioned,' military says

Officials with the military maintain that the Canadian Forces is open to transgender applicants, and say the organization is continuously pushing for more diversity in its ranks.

It's tough to get a sense of exactly how many transgender people are serving in the Canadian Forces. The military doesn't keep official figures, but estimates put the number at around 200 to 300 people. Canada's ban on transgender people and LGBT members in the military was dropped following a court case back in 1992.

Capt. Hooman Shirazi, the director of operations for Canadian Armed Forces recruiting in Southern Ontario, told CBC News that "privacy concerns" prevent him from talking about McArthur's case specifically.

He did say that while the military has transgender personnel, the only way a person can be considered for recruitment is if they have already fully transitioned.

Dr. Carys Massarella is McArthur's doctor. She says she can't see any medical reason why McArthur would be unfit for the Canadian military. (CBC)

"While the applicants are going through the transformation between the two genders, while they're in the process, they will be found medically unfit to join the forces," Shirazi said.

"That is the reason why the applicants with gender dysphoria condition cannot be enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces, because they are between the two genders."

McArthur said that explanation doesn't make any sense to her, given that she and Massarella both consider her to have "fully transitioned."

"I mentioned that to them multiple times and filled out the papers accordingly. I was never asked or consulted about it," she said.

It also seems to fly in the face of stories like this one from Macleans, in which a trans woman describes her transition while in the navy.

​Shirazi said he couldn't speak to medical policy in the Canadian Forces.

McArthur did contact the recruiting medical office to appeal the decision, and says she was told the only way she could be considered is if she went back to her doctor for written proof that she "no longer needed her medication."

Massarella says it would be impossible for McArthur to go without it.

"I've had patients who have had life threatening blood clots on estrogen who have refused to stop taking estrogen," she said. "Most transgender people will tell you they'd rather be dead than not take their hormones.

"To me, it's really a matter of life and death, in a sense, taking that medication."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.