P.E.I. now ready to offer more gender-diverse options on birth certificates

The province of P.E.I. says systems are now in place to have Islanders update their birth certificates with more gender inclusive options like an "X" or leaving the field blank.

‘There's still a lot more places to go’

As of March 6, Islanders can choose two new gender options on their birth certificate: 'X' or to leave the field blank. (P.E.I. Vital Statistics)

The province of P.E.I. says systems are now in place to have Islanders update their birth certificates with more gender inclusive options like an "X" or leaving the field blank.

A series of amendments to the Vital Statistics Act came into effect in March 2020, but the province says there was a delay in updating the gender fields on birth certificates that came down to needing a more modern software program. 

Vital Statistics now has the new program up and running and the new options came into effect March 6.

"We're incredibly happy about it," said Andrea MacPherson, vice-chair of Pride P.E.I.

"It's something that's been a long time coming and it's so vital to moving on in so many factions and so many areas of life. To have that initial marker that says 'this is my gender' and not have that limited to just the binary options of male or female."

Smaller population makes it 'tough' 

P.E.I. has offered the "X" gender marker on driver's licences since late 2018. 

Those documents are managed through the Department of Infrastructure and Transportation, while birth certificates are managed under different legislation which falls to Vital Statistics, within the Department of Justice and Public Safety.

"I think most provinces are kind of on track. Especially in the Atlantic provinces, P.E.I. is the last one to kind of jump on board," said Ash Arsenault, a law student from P.E.I. who helped organize a free document changing clinic for trans and gender-diverse people over the weekend.

"We have a smaller population, so it's tough because we don't have people coming forward and asking for these things as much as they would in a larger province ... there would be more pressure on government to make these changes."

'We can use that as a stepping stone to make sure that other places in life that are unnecessarily gendered don't need to be,' says Pride P.E.I. vice-chair Andrea MacPherson. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

In the last five years, 42 people have requested to change the gender of their P.E.I. birth certificate. The most was 10 in 2018 and so far, two people have requested changes in 2021.

MacPherson said she thinks that number will increase now that there are new options. 

"A lot of people are very happy that this has come through," she said. 

"I would not be surprised if a lot of those people who in the past had already changed from male to female may say, 'Now that I have the option of an X or blank, I'm going to be changing it again because that more closely matches who I am',"

Having that allowance to be who they are is just going to relieve so much stress going forward in their lives.— Andrea MacPherson, Pride P.E.I. vice-chair

Officials with Vital Statistics said the process to change the gender marker takes about three months, depending on how quickly the steps are followed by the applicant.

It's a separate set of forms and fees from a legal name change, but the processes can be completed together where one new birth certificate is issued with the person's correct gender and name.

P.E.I. making strides

The policy around changing gender markers on birth certificates has been updated several times in the past few years.

Prior to 2015, anyone looking to change their gender marker had to have surgical intervention, sign off from two physicians and two notarizations. 

In 2015, the act was amended so that only one physician was required and the necessity of surgery and notaries was dropped.

The legislation was again amended in 2019 to broaden the scope of the physician statement, so it could now be any medical practitioner, including nurse practitioners and psychiatrists. 

Ash Arsenault is from P.E.I. and studies law at the University of New Brunswick. He is a volunteer with the Trans ID clinic, which offers pro-bono document changing assistance. The clinic was open to everyone in Atlantic Canada for the first time this week. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

Now, the two new options have been added, though the medical practioner statement is still required by the act to confirm "that the sex recorded on the person's registration of birth does not correspond with the person's gender identity."

"A lot of these requirements dealt with needing medical permission … a lot of these new changes are about getting rid of those needs because it's important," MacPherson said, adding not everyone feels they want to go through a surgical process.

"There's always going to be progress that's needed and we're happy to work with the provincial government in many areas," she said. "They've been incredibly receptive to our comments on legislation over the last couple of years."

MacPherson said the province has made "significant strides" in banning conversion therapy and she is working with Health PEI on improving access to gender affirming care for Islanders.

"There's still a lot more places to go, both at the provincial and at the federal level. So we're encouraged that they're making steps so that we know that there's now a basis that we can build on those steps to go further," she said.

Arsenault agrees.

"We're getting there," he said. "It just takes us a little extra time."

Square peg into a round hole

For MacPherson, she hopes the conversation about the needlessness of the gender binary will continue on things like washrooms, but also for children playing sports or participating in school sexual health programs.

Provincial officials say government 'has made some progress and recognizes more work needs to be done.' (Jane Robertson/CBC)

"A lot of non-binary people kind of get lost in the gaps because they're assigned to one group or the other, but not everything in that group applies to them or you're, again, still fitting them into a box. That's not necessarily who they are," she said.

"You're always trying to fit that square peg into the round hole. It might fit, but it'd just be a lot easier if everything matched correctly in the first place."

The P.E.I. Transgender Network, a community comprised of transgender and gender-diverse people, parents and allies, agrees. It said the group welcomes the "long overdue" changes.

"It will allow all Islanders the option to have their legal documents reflect their lived experience," the group said in a statement to CBC News.

"Being able to say early on 'You know what, I don't need that box. I'm non-binary, I'm gender fluid, I'm whatever gender that actually applies to me,'" MacPherson said. 

"Having that allowance to be who they are is just going to relieve so much stress going forward in their lives."

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Nicola MacLeod is a reporter with CBC in P.E.I.