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Quebec eyes possible changes to bill that angered transgender community

MONTREAL — Facing a deluge of criticism from transgender-rights advocates in the province, Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette says he is open to seeking better solutions over proposed changes to the province's family law tabled last week.
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MONTREAL — Facing a deluge of criticism from transgender-rights advocates in the province, Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette says he is open to seeking better solutions over proposed changes to the province's family law tabled last week.

Jolin-Barrette wrote on social media Tuesday that he is worried about the concerns raised in recent days and remains open to discussion. 

"We are confident that we can find a solution with LGBTQ groups, and if there are improvements that can be made, they will be," Jolin-Barrette said.

Bill 2 tabled Thursday opens the possibility to dissociate gender and sex identification on official documents, which the government said would give people more options to self-identify. The proposed change is a response to a decision by Quebec Superior Court Justice Gregory Moore in January.

That decision ordered the government to change the province's Civil Code to allow transgender and non-binary people to adequately change their sex and gender identification on civil documents, such as birth certificates.

"A register of civil status that does not recognize the gender identity of transgender and non-binary people, or that limits their ability to correct the designation of sex ... to reflect their true identity, deprives them of the dignity and the equality that they are owed,'" the court ruled.

"Their inability to prove their true identity keeps them in a state of acute vulnerability that too often leads to suicide."

Under Bill 2, however, people could only request a change of their biological sex identification after undergoing gender-affirmation surgery. For those who did not undergo surgery, the only option would be to specify their gender.

Celeste Trianon, trans rights spokesperson at the Centre for Gender Advocacy, called the legislation "the most transphobic bill introduced in Quebec ever, and in Canada." 

Trianon said in an interview it would be a disappointment if Quebec were to become the first province requiring proof of surgery to change sex identification. "If it passes, Quebec would be the only province requiring sex markers, solely based on genitals," Trianon said.

Some other provinces in Canada have already adopted gender-neutral identity documents, without requiring surgery. 

Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta among others, allow people to identify as "M" for male, "F" for female, "X" for non-binary or not to display any gender on governmental documents.

Quebec transgender writer and actress Gabrielle Boulianne-Tremblay, who co-signed a letter published on Monday denouncing the law, said the proposed bill is a major step back. "It will have an impact on our entire lives," Boulianne-Tremblay said. She said she's not less of a woman for not undergoing gender-affirmation surgery but feels that Bill 2 invalidates her identity. 

She also said the change would force transgender people to reveal their identities, because those who have not had gender-affirmation surgery would be the only ones to choose the gender option, not the sex option, on their documents.

"Is everyone going to have the sex category removed?" she asked. "If it's not extended to the general population, if the law pass, then cashiers are going to know that if there's no sex identification ... something is different."  

A spokesperson from Jolin-Barrette's office said in an interview Tuesday only one identification — sex or gender — will be visible. 

"The goal is to allow transgender people to express their gender identity, and it's not necessary to have a surgery to have it on documents," the spokesperson said. By distinguishing gender from sex identity, non-binary people will be able to identify their gender as "X" on legal documents, the spokesperson added.

Mona Greenbaum, executive director of the LGBT+ Family Coalition, said Bill 2 reflects a poor understanding of what transgender and non-binary people need and misinterprets the spirit of the January court ruling.

"It's not progressing at all. It's something that in every single document will force trans people to come out," Greenbaum said. "It will make their documents different than everybody else."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 27, 2021. 

Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press