07/28/2015 10:56 EDT | Updated 07/28/2016 05:59 EDT

Saint John Transgender Woman Fights To Change Birth Certificate

A Saint John transgender woman is preparing to file a complaint to the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission to change the gender on her birth certificate and driver licence from male to female.

Gloria Halvorsen legally changed her name in May, and while her driver's licence displays an updated name and photo, she is now fighting to have the indicated gender changed.

She said it's one of her final steps in confirming her identity and finding acceptance as a transgender woman.

Halvorsen plans to file a complaint to the Human Rights Commission on the grounds of undue hardship and physical discrimination.

The province's Vital Statistics Act says sex designation can be changed only with proof of transsexual surgery.

Applications can include a certificate signed by a medical practitioner who performed the surgery, a signed certificate from a medical practitioner who examined the applicant or any necessary supporting medical evidence.

While Halvorsen has been undergoing hormone replacement therapy, she said she cannot get the full surgery after receiving prostate cancer-related surgeries and radiation treatment.

"I'm taking the province to task," she said.

"I feel that it's discriminatory.

"I can't do all this surgery [unlike] someone else that's physically able. Why because I'm physically unable to do this am I not allowed to have the same privilege?"

In addition to surgical complications, Halvorsen, who is also covering her own medical costs for hormone therapy, said she isn't able to afford transsexual surgery.

"I am financially unable to pay for such surgeries," she said. 

"I would say it's undue hardship.

"There's an old saying, 'Rich man, poor man law.' I feel this a great example of that," she said. 

"I can't afford to do it, so I can't have it. And I can't change the [gender] marker, because they require me to do [the surgery]. I'm kind of in a Catch-22 with the system that way."

Halvorsen is waiting on a report from one of the country's few specialized gender reassignment surgeons, in Montreal. The report will definitively outline what surgeries Halvorsen can and cannot have, and the specific costs involved.

"That's really the only hold right now," she said.

Playing catch-up with other provinces

Amy Otteson is a member of New Brunswick Transgender Health Network, a group of health professionals and community members who work together as an entity to improve health services for the province's transgender community.

Gender reassignment surgery and changes to the Vital Statistics Act are two of the most pressing subjects the network is currently focusing on.

"We have as a group drafted letters to the health minister to request the government look into amending our policy," said Otteson. 

"Governments are realizing that this is human rights issue that transgender people deserve to have the same rights as other people."

Otteson acknowledged Halvorsen's case and said, with the price of the surgery, changing a gender marker is prohibitive.

"It's something that people like Caitlyn Jenner can afford, but people like most New Brunswickers can't afford most surgeries," she said about the former Bruce Jenner, an Olympic gold-medal decathlete and now reality star from the U.S.

Halvorsen's interest in a human rights complaint comes on the heels of a change to Newfoundland and Labrador's Vital Statistics Act, which, like New Brunswick, currently allows gender identity changes only with proof of transsexual surgery.

Kyra Rees, a transgender activist in St. John's, filed an application with the province's Supreme Court under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms last November, asking that the legislation be changed.

Rees won the court battle last Wednesday, and changes will be made to the act during the House of Assembly's next session.

Similar changes to sex designation laws have happened in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba.

Halvorsen pointed out that New Brunswick's Act falls behind the rest of the country, and that it's not an issue that should be overlooked.

"In the case of transgenders, it's not ... just wanting to change their clothes or going into another bathroom," she said. 

"It's about identity and who we are. 

"To change your gender can be a very destructive socially. People lose their families over this. They lose employment. This is not something to take lightly."