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Canada Ontario-born filmmaker receives non-binary birth certificate after legal battle with province

Joshua M. Ferguson who received Ontario's first non-binary birth certificate talks to media at the Human Rights Monument in Ottawa, on May 7, 2018.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

An Ontario-born filmmaker has been issued a non-binary birth certificate after a year-long legal battle with the provincial government and says receiving the document marks a victory for the non-binary and transgender community.

Joshua M. Ferguson, who identifies as neither a man nor a woman and uses the gender-neutral pronoun “they,” returned home from a trip abroad to find the birth certificate in the mail last week.

“I’m feeling good to finally have my birth certificate that correctly displays who I am,” the 35-year-old said over the phone from their home in Vancouver.

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“This moment not only reaffirms who we are, and our protection under the law in Ontario and in Canada, but it’s a relief because we are counted. That’s quite an incredible feeling, because it makes it clear that we exist.”

Ferguson, who was born in Brantford, Ont., applied to a Toronto branch of Service Ontario to change the sex designation on their birth registration to non-binary in May of 2017. When the case was delayed, Ferguson filed a human rights complaint, which eventually prompted a policy change.

People can now choose between “M” for male, “F” for female and “X” for non-binary. They can also opt not to display a sex designation on the birth certificate at all.

Gender-neutral birth certificates are currently also available in Newfoundland and Labrador and in the Northwest Territories, and Ferguson hopes more provinces will follow suit.

“I hope that this inspires other provinces and encourages this kind of legislation to happen across the country,” Ferguson said.

Last August, the federal government announced a plan to start offering a gender-neutral option on passports.

Ontario previously offered non-binary options for drivers’ licenses and health cards, but not birth certificates. The change is significant, said Ferguson, calling birth certificates “the most vital form of ID for personhood.”

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Service Ontario said the new policy on birth certificates is in line with the province’s goal to “recognize and respect all transgender and non-binary people in Ontario, and give all Ontarians access to identification that matches their gender identity.”

Recognition of that kind has both practical and symbolic benefits for transgender people, Ferguson said.

“The ability to change your identification (...) makes a big difference, and can decrease the social isolation, anxiety, depression,” they said.

“My family is very proud of me and it means a lot to me to have a supportive family,” Ferguson added. “They see the change in me, just over the last tiny bit of time that I’ve had this birth certificate.”

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