Transgender: Quebec activists take human rights concerns online

There is a lot more than a space of six characters standing between the letters “f” and “m” in the province of Quebec. A crowdfunding campaign, human rights complaint and the preliminary workings of both a lawsuit and online information database are underway in hopes of making the criteria to change one’s gender marker more accessible. “There are huge barriers for trans people in Quebec,” says Gabrielle Bouchard, Montreal trans activist and employee of Concordia University’s Centre for Gender Advocacy. Current provincial legislation requires anyone wishing to officially change their gender marker to be an adult, a Canadian citizen and to undergo surgery structurally modifying their sexual organs. Last year, Ontario was forced to remove the surgical requirement from its regulations after the issue was brought to court by the province’s human rights commission. In Quebec, though, if all three criteria are not met, sexual designation at birth sticks—pointe final. In an attempt to change that, Bouchard has taken efforts online by launching a crowdfunding human rights campaign. The initiative aims to raise money to cover the legal and travel expenses of witnesses that have offered to come forward — publicly outing themselves — to speak against what they consider the discriminatory nature of the current regulations. The campaign cites five injustices faced by the province’s trans community, pointing to prejudices against immigrants and youth, and labels the current surgical criteria as “forced sterilization. “There is a humongous trans and trans allies community on the web,” says Bouchard. “So, it made sense for us to use the tool that has been so pivotal for trans activists and trans rights around the world — which is the internet.” So far, the campaign has reached 30 percent of its $6,000 goal. While there is much progress to be made, Bouchard is content to have reached a solid starting point. With funds trickling in, on Aug 11 she filed a complaint to Quebec Commission of Human Rights and Youth Rights, citing concerns with Quebec regulations in tune with those mentioned in the online campaign. Bouchard says the complaint attempts to speak for anyone whose sexual identity differs from their born marked gender. The human rights case is all but the tip of an iceberg of efforts, formed by a myriad of organizations and individuals fighting for a future in which safer and more accessible transitions for those living in Quebec becomes a reality. Bouchard’s online effort makes mention of taking legal action and acknowledges that a lawyer has already expressed interest in taking on the case pro bono. The Centre for Gender Advocacy is one of several organizations that forms the Trans Committee of The Conseil Quebecois LGBT, which presented proposed criteria changes to Quebec’s justice department earlier this year, alongside other advocacy groups. “The government presented amendments to the law, and one group — the Liberals — were really not in agreement,” says Anik Laplante, secretary of the National Assembly’s Commission des Institutions. “So, it’s possible that this [discussion] never comes back, or that they could negotiate, but we won’t know in advance.” The assembly resumed on Sept 17 and Bouchard says she plans to play the situation by ear, depending on the outcome and timing of discussions. In the meantime, she’ll be working with other organizations to launch a website that will serve as a centralized database of information, cataloging efforts made by a variety of parties who take issue with the current legislation. The site will be largely (if not completely) bilingual and feature letters sent to the government, campaign briefings and offer a collectively constructed summary of information on the legal status quo, and modifications being sought. With many long-term efforts in the works, those involved still stress the utmost need for rapid change. “It might seem like a little thing, you know just a letter — but that letter is so devastating for many of the kids,” says Akiko Asano, a mother of a gender creative child who works for Gender Creative Kids Canada. Her male-born son has identified as a girl since the age of two. “She’ll be trying out her fourth high school this year,” says Asano, who explained that the current legal framework has made it difficult to keep her child safe at school, where she will inevitably be outed when her appearance contradicts the lettered identification on her personal documents. “We are talking about life and death — these kids are so anxious, we are dealing with suicide attempts, depression or anxiety,” Asano says. “It is with complete urgency that this needs to change.” Bouchard says that on a global scale, other government bodies with similar regulations to Quebec’s have never been successful when legally challenged, so she’s confident that change will come. “Science and jurisprudence is behind us in that we are going to prevail — now it’s just a question of time,” she said.
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