Ten-year-old Harriette Cunningham has known she is a girl since she could “actually process things,” but her identification says she is a boy.
With her grandmother Cathie Dickens’ help, the Comox Valley transgender girl has launched a campaign to push for changes to B.C. laws so that her identification can reflect her gender, rather than her sex.
“I believe Harriette has a civil right and a human right to have her gender that she expresses herself in marked on her only identification,” says Dickens of Cunningham’s birth certificate.
Cunningham says she is questioned about how her appearance differs from what’s listed on her passport, which is based off what’s listed on her birth certificate, whenever she crosses the border to visit Dickens’ in her Palm Springs home.
“I feel really quite insecure when people are glaring at me and staring at me, and they’re questioning me,” says Cunningham. “And I want to explain myself, but then again I think I shouldn’t really have to because everybody else doesn’t have to.”
Border crossings are not the only situation that make Cunningham anxious because of her identification.
“Whenever my Mom signs me up for something, like an activity for school or gymnastics or sports, or dance, they just show the birth certificate and then they have to do a big explanation,” continues Cunningham.
According to B.C. law, people must have sexual reassignment surgery before they can change their sex designation on their birth certificate.
Dickens notes Ontario laws now allow a person’s sex designation to be changed without surgery, after a Human Rights Tribunal ruling last year, which found the need for surgery discriminatory.
“Australia has an ‘indeterminate’ on their passport, and now Germany has ‘indeterminate’ on their birth certificates,” continues Dickens, as she questions why a person must choose male or female on their identification at all, and points out hermaphrodites are born without a clear male or female sex.
Her and Cunningham sent letters to over 40 MPs and MLAs pushing for changes to the law, and they have a tentative date set to meet with Comox Valley MLA Don McRae later this month.
Dickens notes an argument some will make is that Cunningham may want to change her gender back at a later point, like when she hits puberty.
Harriette was born as Declan Cunningham, but has now officially changed her name to Harriette. The Grade 5 student says she first started telling people she was a girl in Grade 2, and she started school last fall as a girl, taking part on girls sports teams for example.
Cunningham stresses she knows who she is, and always has. She adds it took time for her parents to accept that she is transgender.
“Mom and Dad just thought, ‘Oh it’s just a phase,’ ” recalls Cunningham, noting she often used to have fits of anger and frustration. “I’m just like, ‘OK, I’m trying to get this clear,’ I would be having meltdowns every day like, ‘I’m trying to get this clear; it’s not a phase!’ “
She adds she feels “100 per cent” better now that she is living her life as a girl.
During a separate interview, Harriette’s father Colin notes the family has received “overwhelming support” from the Comox Valley community, but adds many people have trouble grasping what it means to be transgender.
“If you really embrace and understand what it means to be transgender, you realize being transgender is who you know yourself to be at your very core,” he says, pointing out being transgender has nothing to do with sexual orientation. “And she knows who she is better than anyone I know, and we’re just looking for ways to support her in that.”