Change is good
by Dale Burgos
I’ve taken the summer break to look back at the past year and I’ve noticed that education and awareness surrounding gender identity has come to the forefront all over Canada and the United States.
Caitlyn Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair Magazine. Jazz, of I am Jazz fame now has her own TLC television series. On the Canadian side of the border, individuals are fighting and succeeding in their struggle for equality in schools, at work, and in everyday life.
As you may have read in my recent articles, I have a transgender daughter. She transitioned this past year and I must say, she is very happy and very comfortable in her own skin. Family and friends have been very supportive. There have also been people who just don’t understand, and that’s ok, because they ask the questions that help make them understand. Our response is quite simple: it isn’t a choice to live as a transgender boy or girl; it’s who they are. We didn’t choose to be a human, giraffe or a zebra. It’s just who we are. And when it comes to gender, we mustn’t associate body parts with gender. It’s simple enough concept, but difficult for some to understand.
What I’m calling a misunderstanding and lack of education is what led my wife and me to file a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. The now 10-month process has been an eye-opening experience. Initially we opened the complaint against the school division in which our children used to attend. Our basis was discrimination and segregation. Without getting into details, the Manitoba Human Rights Code protects individuals, like my daughter, against discrimination and segregation. However, the school division did not agree. We simply wanted equality, but we didn’t expect our story to make headlines across Canada and as far away as Japan and The Netherlands. But it did. And what has become a story of equality for one person has become a story for transgender people all over the world.
My wife and I have gotten letters and e-mails from people who show their support and shared that they wished for understanding parents like us when they were younger. We’ve been contacted by adults who have transitioned and are now living their lives as their true selves because, “If an eight-year-old can do it, so can I.”
The positive feedback has been overwhelming; yet, we know that policies are not changing in the school division in which we are fighting. How do you make a school division understand that they have discriminated against your daughter? This is where awareness and education from organizations that are knowledgeable with transgender rights could be useful. The board of the Human Rights Commission will be meeting this month, and we are more than anxious and optimistic about the outcome. We hope that the first steps to change and equality will be their focus. Stay tuned!
Had I not accepted a position in British Columbia, we would still be living happily in Winnipeg. Selfishly, I feel fortunate that my daughter no longer attends the school she did, however, I know firsthand that there are other children dealing with the exact situation our daughter faced not too long ago.
Thankfully, the province of Manitoba (and many other provinces in Canada) is making great strides in recognizing transgender people. Some of the most important documents we carry are our birth certificate, driver’s license and passport. Not a big deal for most of us. However, for transgender individuals, this has been a constant struggle. Imagine living as female, but not having a passport to prove your name or gender when you want to fly to Hawaii. Imagine not having a driver’s license showing who you truly are inside and out. But what was once an obstacle can now be easily overcome by filling out the forms to change the gender marker on your birth certificate. Who knew that a single “M” or “F” on legal documentation would be such a big deal? Trust me, it is. Change is coming and it is good.
Dale is the director of communications for a school district in British Columbia and continues to submit articles from afar.