Transgender N.W.T., residents can now change birth certificates to reflect gender

Transgender people in the N.W.T. no longer have to undergo gender reassignment surgery before they have the gender marker on their birth certificate changed.

Proposed changes to the N.W.T. Vital Statistics Act became official July 1.

The rainbow painted crosswalk in downtown Yellowknife. Changes to the N.W.T. Vital Statistics Act mean transgender people no longer require gender reassignment surgery before changing gender markers on birth certificates. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Some awaited changes to the N.W.T. Vital Statistics Act became official earlier this month.

Residents of the Northwest Territories who were born here can now have birth certificates and birth registration forms amended to the gender marker of his, her — or their — choosing without gender reassignment surgery.

"Residents who were born in the N.W.T., may choose to change their birth certificate to the gender that they identify with," said Damien Healy, Department of Health communications manager, in an email.

"A third option (X) is available if a person does not identify as male or female."

Previously, the only way a person in the N.W.T. could have his or her gender changed on official documentation was after undergoing gender reassignment surgery.

Chelsea Thacker is the executive director of Yellowknife's Rainbow Coalition, an LGBT advocacy organization.

She said it's a significant achievement for trans rights activists to no longer need approval from the medical community before legally identifying as a transgender person.

"It means that those who identify outside the gender binary no longer have to jump through all these medical [hoops] and feel invalidated in their experience because they don't meet a certain standard set by their doctor," Thacker said.

"Taking away this necessity to interact with the medical system just to change a gender marker and adjust their identification is going to be huge. It's going to make a lot more people ask for that sort of support … and live in their own identities."

Indigenous accommodation, to a point

Northwest Territories residents who want their birth registration and certificate to show a single name are now able to have documentation amended to show that, provided that single name designation is a part of his or her traditional culture.

Further proposed changes to the Vital Statistics Act that would allow for Indigenous characters to be included on birth certificates will have to wait, Healy said. 

Only characters in the Roman alphabet can be used on official documents like birth certificates. This means some traditional Indigenous names in Dene, Inuvialuit and Cree scripts can not be spelled out properly on official documentation.

Previously, Health Minister Glen Abernethy had hoped the changes would be law by this fall.