Nova Scotia

Transgender people take advantage of Nova Scotia birth certificate changes

Transgender people, including children, are taking advantage of the change in Nova Scotia law last September, but there are still some who are not benefiting.

Children are among 94 people who have changed official sex designations since September rule changes

Jessica Dempsey said she felt empowered when she picked up her new birth certificate. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Since Jessica Dempsey came out as a transgender woman in the fall of 2011, her life has been marked by struggles against discrimination.

But things are starting to change, and in a significant way. Dempsey recently picked up her new birth certificate, which indicates her sex marker: female.

"It's who I am, how I identify — and I'm still probably in awe about this," said the 40-year-old Halifax woman, waving her new government-issued document.

"I think I'm still a little floaty over getting this done because it's been so long."

Jessica Dempsey has started changing other documents now that she has her new birth certificate. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

'This is progress'

Dempsey is one of 114 Nova Scotians who applied to make the change, and one of 94 whose applications have been processed so far since the province relaxed rules last September. That's about double the number of applicants expected.

The changes have been an even split, with 47 birth certificates altered from male to female and vice versa.

And the province says a number of them are children who are 15 years old and younger.

"This is progress. This has done a lot for the trans community that I belong to. Having this document … makes things safer for me. It opens up more doors for me for employment," Dempsey said.

"I can just go apply for a passport and then I can travel. I can actually leave the country now."

Push to remove gender marker

But the birth certificate change still leaves some people out, said Áine Morse, whose gender identity is neither male nor female.

On the queer spectrum, Morse is a non-binary person who prefers being referred to by the pronoun "they."

Morse, a board member with the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, says that group, along with The Youth Project, have lobbied the province to consider other options.

That might include removing the gender maker from birth certificates altogether, Morse said.

Not a 'monolith'

On a personal level, Morse likes the option chosen by Australia, Denmark and New Zealand for passports. Those countries allow passports to use an X as a gender designation.

"I like "X," but again, non-binary people aren't a monolith. We're all very different people and we all have different thoughts and feelings on those things," Morse said. 

Áine Morse is a board member with the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

'We're here, we matter.'

Morse said the letter M, F or X on a document is hugely symbolic.

"Some of the messaging behind government identification can reinforce some of those things and say that these people don't actually exist," they said. "We're trying our best to say like, we're here, we matter, we belong."

No further changes are planned for birth certificates, a spokesperson for Service Nova Scotia said, but the department is talking with groups and recognizes that this is a "dynamic and evolving area of social policy."

Morse hopes the momentum is building towards more changes. 

"We have this tendency to say, 'Oh, hey, we're done now, we're good,' without understanding what it means to protect everyone's gender identity and gender expression," they said.

"I don't think we're quite there yet."


Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at