A trans refugee who fled persecution to seek safety in Canada has been forced to claim asylum as a man
A trans woman who fled persecution in Hong Kong to seek safety in Canada is being forced to go through the refugee process as a man.
After arriving in Toronto, Naomi Chen (not her real name) made an asylum claim.
But she was swiftly informed by Canadian officials that she had to be registered as “male” on her refugee protection claimant document – despite having left Hong Kong because, she says, she was persecuted on the basis of her gender identity.
Chen is married to another woman, but same-sex marriage is illegal in Hong Kong – so, even if she could gain legal recognition of her female gender on her Hong Kong documents, she worries that to do so would invalidate her marriage.
But she wasn’t expecting this treatment when she arrived in Canada – where citizens can self-identify their gender on forms and documents, and a third gender is legally recognised.
“I was stunned. I was crying. I was distressed,” Chen told Global News. “This is not something I expected.”
What Chen didn’t know was that government policy states that all of the information relating to an asylum-seekers claim must “reflect what is indicated on their foreign passport”.
This is also true of all temporary resident documents issued by the government, including work and study permits.
It means trans woman Chen is registered as male in Canada and only has ID with male gender markers. She is afraid to leave the house, because if she’s asked for ID the male gender marker will immediately raise suspicion and out her as a trans woman.
“It’s discrimination,” Chen said. “I’m so afraid to live as a woman here.”
If her asylum claim is accepted, she’ll easily be able to update the gender marker on her documents by filling in a one-page form.
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But until then, she’s stuck – the Canadian government only allows asylum-seekers to change the gender marker on their application, and other documents, if it’s changed on the passport of the country they are fleeing from. This is impossible for Chen.
“It’s simply unconscionable that the Canadian government would knowingly contribute to a process that discriminates against individuals based on their gender identity and gender expression,” said Chen’s lawyer, Ashley Fisch.
Dr June Lam, a psychiatrist at the adult gender identity clinic at Toronto’s Centre of Addiction and Mental Health, added that misgendering trans and gender-diverse people can contribute to negative mental-health outcomes, including increased suicidal thoughts and actions.
“It’s like we’re recreating the systemic oppression that they’re trying to escape by coming to Canada,” Lam said.