News / Vancouver

'Monumental': B.C. non-binary filmmaker wins 'X' gender ID on passport

Metro lines up with B.C. writer testing new gender law—who may have become the first such approval in Canada.

Vancouver writer and filmmaker Joshua M. Ferguson, 35, prepares to mail in an application on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 to change their listed gender on B.C. government identity documents' from 'male' to 'X' or non-binary. If approved, it would become the first such change in Canada.

David P. Ball / Metro Order this photo

Vancouver writer and filmmaker Joshua M. Ferguson, 35, prepares to mail in an application on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 to change their listed gender on B.C. government identity documents' from 'male' to 'X' or non-binary. If approved, it would become the first such change in Canada.

On Thursday at lunchtime, Metro briefly joined Vancouver non-binary gender advocate Joshua M. Ferguson in Passport Canada's waiting room downtown — hoping to make history.

Around 2 p.m., the 35-year-old filmmaker got what they came for: a receipt confirming they'd receive their passport within two weeks, becoming possibly the first Canadian with an "X" designation for their gender on the document.

"They approved it," they told Metro after the application was accepted. "I feel great!

"It's monumental: the first time that people like me across the country can be formally recognized as non-binary."

The Passport Canada office manager and employees assured them their paperwork was all in order.

"They said I was fine — they were very welcoming and warm and told me I'm the first person to apply for the 'X' observation (in Vancouver)," Ferguson said. "I haven't heard any other stories, so I could very well be the first one in Canada to have got it."

Just hours earlier, they had told Metro in a phone interview ahead of their appointment: "I'll see what happens." (Ferguson uses the non-binary pronoun "they," instead of he or she).

The federal government was not contacted for comment on this story, but the new rules announced last Thursday were one part of a plan to make all government identity documents gender neutral, explained Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen at the time.

"By introducing an 'X' gender designation in our government-issued documents, we are taking an important step towards advancing equality for all Canadians regardless of gender identity or expression," Hussen said in a statement.

But under those interim federal regulations unveiled last week, the non-binary gender designation would only appear in an observation section of the passport, not the gender category, for an undefined period of time.

Ferguson praised all the staff who helped at Passport Canada on Thursday, describing them as "very warm and welcoming" and hoping others filing similar paperwork across Canada have a similar reception.

The Passport Canada employee didn't appear at all surprised by the request, Ferguson said, apparently having been well briefed in advance.

"She said I'd still have the 'M' on my passport but an 'X' in the observation, until they issue me a new passport with an 'X' designation," Ferguson recalled, holding up their current passport still listing them as male. "Of course it isn't good enough that my passport will still say 'M.'

"But it's happening — there's a wave of change across the country … This isn't full recognition, but it's a step to get there."

Ferguson said they've heard from several families in the past day saying "they're going to be applying" for the new designation, but reportedly not all have been successful as they were.

However, the praise that showered federal Liberals last week after they announced the historic "X" gender designation turned sour for some over the course of the day.

What appeared to be a groundbreaking recognition for citizens with non-binary gender was put to the test earlier in the day when Gemma Hickey, in Newfoundland and Labrador, was reportedly told that no passport would be issued in that province without providing a non-binary designated birth certificate.

Trouble is, no province has yet issued such a birth certificate to an adult (one British Columbia baby was issued "X" documents at birth this year). Only the Northwest Territories allows a non-binary change to an existing birth certificate.

Ferguson has been waiting months for Ontario to rule on a previous birth certficate change request, and filed documents last week to request a non-binary designation in B.C.

"After I found out Gemma was turned down because they don't have a birth certificate, I'm concerned that I'll aso be rejected," they said. "That's a serious problem.

"If the federal government is truly committed to recognizing non-binary people, the interim measure should be accessible. If not, last week's announcement just looks like a publicity stunt. It's just another obstacle that prevents us from being recognized."

Nonetheless, Ferguson's success Thursday is a sign that, at least for the interim measure, the first steps towards gender-neutral passports has been taken. Now they'll continue waiting for their Ontario birth certificate and B.C. identity documents. Ontario has stalled the application for about a month pending a review.

"If the Government of Canada can issue such an important document without a drawn-out process, then surely Ontario and B.C. can do that as well," Ferguson argued. "Many people are waiting for that."

Update (Aug. 31 2:30 p.m.): Story updated with latest developments.

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