No stats, no help: Transgender woman fights for inclusion in census

A transgender woman in Halifax is fighting to have a space on the national census for people to identify themselves as transgender.

Currently, the census only has space for people to identify as male or female.

“It just reinforces that binary that there’s only two genders. There’s a lot more than two genders. It also says that we don’t exist,” said Jessica Dempsey.

Dempsey, 40, said without the option on the census there is no data collected about the transgender community.

“If you don’t record the statistics on us for like health care, employment rates and stuff we’re not going to get anywhere. We’re not going to get recognized to say, ‘Oh, maybe there should be more resources put in’ … for trans people. There needs to be more resources.”

Hard numbers can lead to action

Hard numbers would help when requesting aid from government and community organizations, Dempsey said.  

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She said too many trans people are living in poverty and can’t get work because they are transgender — none of which is public knowledge because it isn’t recorded on the census.

Jessica Dempsey says if the national census recognized transgender people it would go a long way towards helping them draw attention to problems in their community. (Robert Short/CBC)

Dempsey says she worked in the sex trade because she couldn’t find regular employment.

“It’s not an easy thing for anybody… It’s not a choice, you know, anybody should have to make.” said Dempsey. “My heart goes out to a lot of other women like myself who struggle.”

No national survey includes transgender people

Marc Lachance, director of the demography division of Statistics Canada, said to his knowledge there has been no national survey trying to collect data on the transgender population.

“This is probably why a lot of those associations would like to see some information on this,” he said.

Jessica Dempsey refused to fill out the census because it only allowed people to identify as male or female. (Robert Short/CBC)

Dempsey complained to Statistics Canada and was told to write her concerns in the comments section. She told the organization that wasn’t good enough and asked for another resolution. She said her complaints were ignored.  

Lachance said Dempsey should never have been ignored and Statistics Canada is open to listening to anyone.

‘Statistics Canada has never measured gender identities’

Lachance’s staff have told people if they identify as transgender they could leave the male/female portion of the census blank and express their views about gender in the comments section. That information would then be recorded and analyzed.

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“Statistics Canada has never measured gender identities per se, as it measures sex,” he said.

Biological sex is important to record to help keep track of the female-to-male population, fertility rates and measure health trends, Lachance said. 

Dempsey said that information is important to the transgender population as well.

‘We’re listening to the needs of the population’

Statistics Canada is planning to do consultations next year with various groups to determine how to best ask questions about gender. Statistics Canada may determine that questions about gender are better included on one of its other surveys, not the census.

“We’re listening to the needs of the population. Stats Canada works on the premise of working with the users and trying to understand their data needs.”

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The next census is scheduled to go out in 2021, which is the earliest any changes could go into effect.

That’s not good enough for Dempsey.

“That’s five more years of not having rights, five more years of being ignored,” she said.