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Activists march against legal roadblocks to trans* self-determination

Demonstrators demand accessible name change procedures, condemn government inaction

Correction appended August 12, 2014.

Over 250 trans* activists and allies took to the streets of Montreal’s Gay Village on Sunday to denounce the legal and bureaucratic barriers to trans* self-determination. The PARTICIPES collective of young trans* persons organized the demonstration as part of the Pervers/Cité radical queer festival, with the endorsement of 20 community groups and organizations.

The organizers centred their demands around the simplification of the procedures required to change one’s first name and gender marker on official documents. These procedures are currently a long and expensive process only available to Canadian citizens having reached the age of majority.

“If you want to change your name [and gender marker], you have to give up on any chance of having biological children – you have to be sterilized,” explained PARTICIPES spokesperson Lucas Charlie Rose in an interview with The Daily. “So we’re fighting to be able to change our names more easily, because it’s really a big source of stress for us.”

The requirement to undergo genital surgery before a gender marker change was eliminated in Quebec by the adoption of Bill 35 in December 2013. However, the newly elected Liberal government has as of yet failed to provide the regulatory framework required for the enforcement of the relevant portion of the bill, which means that, in practice, the requirement is still in place.

“It’s been over 200 days since the government passed [Bill 35] to allow trans* people to have their gender markers and names changed without having surgery,” Raphaele, a protester, told The Daily. “The law has received […] royal assent or whatever, and it’s still not on the books, because of transphobia I’m guessing, because of a Liberal government that doesn’t want trans* people to be able to change identity without surgery.”

“It’s an affront to myself. It puts me in a situation where I’m not normalized – I feel like less of a citizen,” they added. “It’s state violence against trans* people.”

“We should have power over our own bodies. It’s like, when you come out as trans*, your body doesn’t belong to you anymore.”
– Lucas Charlie Rose, PARTICIPES spokesperson

Addressing the crowd at Place Émilie-Gamelin before the march began, Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTTeQ) outreach worker Betty Iglesias spoke to the particular challenges faced by trans* migrants without citizenship.

“I want to ask you to hear the voice of migrants and refugees who are now under double oppression because of their legal name and because of their identity,” Iglesias said in French. “Having citizenship is necessary to […] be recognized as a person eligible to make a demand [to change one’s name and gender marker].”

Speaking to The Daily, Rose highlighted the difficulties that trans* people face in their interactions with the medical community.

“To get hormones, we have to go see therapists, doctors, endocrinologists, and most of them are transphobic, and it’s really easy to be rejected by the doctors because they are not aware of what being transgender is,” said Rose. “To get surgery, to get hormones, and to get our names changed, we have to go see people who have a big authority on this even though they have no idea what it is, and they’re not educated about it. We spend most of our time trying to educate doctors and all these people.”

“We should have power over our own bodies,” added Rose. “It’s like, when you come out as trans*, your body doesn’t belong to you anymore, it belongs to all these people – and so that’s what we’re fighting for today.”

Having marched for about two hours, the demonstrators reached the offices of the Directeur de l’état civil – the Quebec governmental institution that controls name and gender marker changes – near the Place-des-Arts metro station. A minute of silence for victims of violence against trans* people was held, and many protesters wrote their names in chalk on the glass windows of the building.

The organizers at PARTICIPES noted that they hoped to make the march a yearly occurrence, a statement applauded by the protesters who were present.

“It’s a way to tell the authorities or the state that trans* people exist, that we live lives, we have value, and we’re still surviving despite what you’re doing to us,” said Raphaele.

An earlier version of this article stated that, before the sanction of Bill 35, genital surgery was a requirement for a name change. In fact, it was a requirement for a gender marker change.