Updated: June 18, 2014, 11:50 p.m.
In a landmark gesture from Alberta, Canada, a 12-year-old transgender youth has been granted a birth certificate identifying him as male without needing to undergo reassignment surgery.
Wren Kauffman began identifying as a boy at the age of 9 but was not allowed to change his sex from female to male on official records due to an Alberta law stipulating that a person must undergo gender reassignment surgery before a birth certificate can be reissued. That rule, which hadn't been updated since the 1970s, created a problem for transgender youths such as Kauffman, as the minimum age for getting such surgeries is usually 18 years old.
Image Credit: Global News
Kauffman's family filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, urging the government to recognize him as a boy. Last year, 10-year-old Harriette Cunningham, who was assigned male at birth, similarly petitioned the British Columbia government to change her formal identification documents.
Kauffman's and Cunningham's petitions argued that the current regulations violated the rights of transgender individuals by requiring reassignment surgeries, leaving little recourse for those without the means to pay for such procedures or transgender youths under 18.
Then there's the issue of the importance and number of identifiers listed on today's birth certificate documentation.
"When I first got my birth certificate it had on it as identifying features, my name, my date of birth and my gender — that was it," human rights lawyer Barbara Findlay told Global News. "If I was born 20 or 30 years before it would also have my race and my father's occupation, my class, but we already figured out that those aren’t relevant."
In April, Alberta Premier Dave Hancock agreed, announcing that the surgery requirement would be nixed in his region, just days before a judge determined that the current law violates the rights of transgender people. Judge Brian Burrows struck down sections of the law in an ultimately successful challenge brought by a 23-year-old transgender woman.
These important steps mean that Alberta is well on its way to joining Ontario as well as six U.S. states — New York, California, Iowa, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C. — in waiving the legal requirement to have reassignment surgery before changing a birth certificate. These regions now allow transgender people to correct their birth certificates after providing a doctor's note confirming the person's gender identity.
"A birth certificate is a fundamental form of identification. This will ensure that transgender people can obtain accurate birth certificates that reflect who they are," Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said earlier this month following New York's policy change.
"It also means they will stop being subjected to harassment and discrimination in areas like employment where identification is essential to proving eligibility to work," Silverman noted.
Image Credit: Global News
While there remain many misconceptions about the transgender community, not everyone can or wants to undergo reassignment surgery. In fact, only about a quarter of trans people opts for reassignment surgery due to prohibitive costs, health hazards and the risk of infertility — and for those who do, the process can take years. Of those who transition surgically, just 21% are able to update all of their legal records.
The choices for children of course are even more limited. But Kauffman's story is slowly becoming increasingly common. More and more children are coming out as transgender, Kris Wells, a researcher with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, told the Star. While some families choose to keep their child's trangender identity a secret, others are taking a more active approach.
Kauffman's mother, Wendy, said that at first, she thought her child's demands — to cut his hair short like Zac Efron, for example — were just a phase. But by the time he hit 9 years old, it was clear this was much more than a passing fancy.
"I love you whether you're a boy or a girl and I understand now," she said she told her child, according to the Star. "And we'll figure out how we can help you. And we’ll do it together."
For now, Kauffman is using injections to halt puberty. In a few years, he'll be able to start taking male hormones, and at age 18 he'll decide whether wants to go through with surgery, on his own terms.
According to the World Health Organization, surgery requirements for legal gender change play into the "forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization" of transgender people. But thanks to a 12-year-old boy in Alberta, North America is plodding toward a legal standard that may one day discriminate neither by gender nor by age.