Mom of transgender child wants ID rules changed

The mother of a transgender child wants the Saskatchewan government to remove any record of a person's sex on birth certificates.

Youngster has identified as a girl since age 3

Fran Forsberg says her child, Renn, has identified as a girl since the youngster was three. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

The mother of a transgender child wants the Saskatchewan government to remove any record of a person's sex on birth certificates.

Fran Forsberg has filed a complaint to Saskatchewan's Human Rights Commission on behalf of her six-year-old child, Renn, after the province's Vital Statistics Agency refused to change Renn's sex designation from "Male" to "Female" on the youngster's birth records.

We used to have race on our birth certificates.- Fran Forsberg

Renn was born with male genitalia but has identified as a girl since the age of three. According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, children establish their gender identity between 18 to 30 months. When Forsberg sought to change Renn's birth record, she submitted reports from a physician and psychologist confirming that Renn identifies as a female. The Vital Statistics Agency, however, was not moved.

Some definitions*:

  • Sex: The biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
  • Gender identity: A person’s internal sense of self, and the sense of being male or female. May differ from a person's sex.
  • Transgender: A person`s psychological self  ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. 
  • Sexual orientation: Refers to the biological sex or gender to which a person is attracted.

(*Sources: World Health Organization, various health organizations)

In Saskatchewan, Forsberg learned a resident can only change the sex designation on a birth certificate after undergoing sex reassignment surgery, a requirement that is considered discriminatory in the province of Ontario.

"We used to have race on our birth certificates — also, what your father did for a living. It's irrelevant," Forsberg told CBC News. "What I would like to see is for gender to be removed completely from birth certificates."

The Forsberg family first realized that Renn, six, didn't feel like a boy inside when she started self-harming about three years ago. Renn would bang her head against the wall unless she was allowed to wear girls' clothing and be called a girl. 

Today, her older sister, Krista, 11, likes to help Renn pick her outfits, ranging from black sequin halter dresses to pink frilly gowns. Renn is also allowed to use the girl's bathroom at her elementary school.

"We think people should accept other people for who they are, and not judge them for who they're not," Krista said.

The Forsbergs decided to go public with their campaign, arguing that staying quiet only adds to stigma and discrimination.

"I want people to understand that my kids do not have an issue with their gender or their gender expression," Forsberg said. "It is society's issue."

Changes made in Ontario

Forsberg said that when the gender marker — M or F — on a birth certificate, driver's licence, or passport doesn't match one's physical presentation, it triggers confusion and discrimination.

The Ontario government changed its legislation after the province's Human Rights Tribunal ruled that it's discriminatory to require transgender people to undergo surgery before changing the sex designation on their birth certificates in a decision in 2012.

While the change was celebrated as the first legislation of its kind in Canada, many were not satisfied because it doesn't apply to children under 18 and a person must still present a doctor's note that verifies their gender identity.

The B.C. government is now poised to pass similar legislation regarding its records, after pressure from Harriette Cunningham, 10, who was born a boy but identifies as a girl.

The proposed B.C. legislation falls short of Cunningham's request that gender markers be removed entirely from government-issued ID.

'M' and 'F' add nothing to passports, lawyer says

While birth certificates fall under provincial jurisdiction, they're required for passports issued by the federal government.

Barbara Findlay, a lawyer from Vancouver, has launched a legal challenge to have M and F removed from passports. She reasons that compared to photographs and other biometric security features, a gender marker adds little information.

"If you're going to use a document for identification purposes, and it has photograph on it, a gender marker adds nothing," Findlay said. Since 2011, Australia has allowed citizens to mark an "X" for gender on their passport, rather than "M" or "F." New Zealand followed suit. And in 2013, a new law in Germany allows parents of intersex infants to leave their gender unstated, or "blank," on birth certificates. 

Forsberg family is united

At the Forsberg home, Renn's siblings, Tana and Krista, say they've been taught to stand up for themselves and be proud of who they are.

The Forsberg siblings: Renn, 6, Krista, 11, and Tana, 9. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

Renn's big brother, Tana, 9, isn't transgender but likes to experiment with girl's clothing. He wears costumes and wigs to church and once entered a drag queen competition. He has also posed as a girl on posters and billboards for the "Pink Revolution" campaign, which is intended to educate people about different gender presentations. 

Tana said he has learned to defend himself at school.

I don't want my kids to think that they have something to hide.- Fran Forsberg

"Somebody walked up to me and said, 'Are you a girl or a gay boy?' I said, 'Does it really matter?'" he told CBC News.

Their mother said it is important to foster a healthy self-esteem in her children.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, an estimated 20 to 30 per cent of transgender youth have attempted suicide.

Forsberg said filing the human rights complaint is part of making systematic change.

"I don't want my kids to think that they have something to hide or that they have something to be ashamed about, because they don't," she said. "And people who are unkind to children like this, they're the ones who should be ashamed and hiding."

Replay the Saskatoon Morning live chat asking whether sex designation should be removed from birth certificates?