'Big leap' for Comox girl with new birth certificate

Eleven-year-old Harriette Cunningham of Comox recently received her new birth certificate identifying her as a female.  - SANDY AITKEN
Eleven-year-old Harriette Cunningham of Comox recently received her new birth certificate identifying her as a female.
— image credit: SANDY AITKEN

Calling it "a big leap" for transgender residents across B.C., Cathie Dickens said a new bill passed into law in May allowed her granddaughter to get her new birth certificate identifying her as a female.

"It's a great thing," she added, as eleven-year-old Harriette Cunningham of Comox is one of the first in the province to receive her new certificate following Bill 17 passing into law.

Harriette was born as Declan Cunningham, but has officially changed her name to Harriette. She said she first started telling people she was a girl in Grade 2, and she started school last fall as a girl, taking part on girls sports teams for example.

With the help of Dickens, Cunningham launched a campaign last September to push for changes to B.C. laws so that her identification can reflect her gender, rather than her sex.

Cunningham told The Record in September she felt insecure when travelling or crossing the border, as her appearance differed from what was listed on both her passport and birth certificate at the time.

"… I want to explain myself, but then again I think I shouldn't really have to because everybody else doesn't have to," she noted.

Previously, according to B.C. law, people must have sexual reassignment surgery before they can change their sex designation on their birth certificate.

Now under Bill 17, people wishing to change the sex designation on their birth certificates no longer have to undergo surgery first.

She and Cunningham sent letters to more than 40 MPs and MLAs pushing for changes to the law, and met with Comox Valley MLA Don McRae.

In a separate interview, Harriette's father Colin notes receiving her certificate is the first step for the École Robb Road student, who will be entering Grade 6.

"Matters of right and wrong and matters of principal are really important to her. It's important to her to be who she is," he explained.

Earlier this week with her official name change form and new birth certificate, Harriette applied for her new passport, and Colin said the family looks forward to a  stress-free border crossing when they visit Seattle next month for the Gender Odyssey Conference.

Although Harriette may soon have her new passport, Colin explained she is continuing to fight for those who may not identify with any particular gender.

"Through all of this Harriette and all of us have learned so much more about diversity and many people don't identify with either gender for a variety of different reasons or conform to how society defines gender."

He added her mission is to remove gender markings on all government identification.

"Our lawyer pointed out to us that at one point identification used to have our race and social class on it. Looking back, it seems absurd," he said.

We are now in a position to be more progressive and to have to have gender-specific identification define us, it does become a little bit dated."

In October, Harriette and her family will be travelling to Vancouver for a Human Rights Tribunal to outline why it is important not to define people by gender.

"Overall, the community and friend and family support has been really strong," added Colin. "There's always people with biases or people ready to jump to conclusions, but Harriette's resilient, she's never wavered."

— With files from Renee Andor



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