‘We Belong Here’ Says Gemma Hickey, Changing the World for LBGTQ2 People

Kimberly Swan

Gemma Hickey. Photo by David Howells

Gemma Hickey believes that if we can change one person, then we can change the world. That’s one of the reasons why they were compelled to become an activist in the first place: to help other LBGTQ2 youth grow up in a better world.

“I never wanted any kid to have to go through what I went through,” said Hickey. “I tried to end my life now I do what I can to save the lives of others.”

Hickey, 43, is a gender-neutral Canadian activist who received their non-binary birth certificate on December 14, 2017, and applied and received a non-binary passport once Canada introduced them in August 2017. Making them one of the first people to receive their non-binary birth certificate in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

Hickey does not identify as male or female, and prefers the pronoun “they”. On the passport and birth certificate, it reveals an “X” under the gender designation.

Hickey said the experience felt incredible.

They travel to different countries hoping to make a positive international impact by using their new passport, according to The Japan Times. Hickey met many activists in Japan who are challenging the status quo and said it was important to them to advocate with activists through discussions, lecture at the university, and interview with journalists.

Hickey went to Japan to show support for the 13 LGBTQ+ couples who filed lawsuits against the country for not allowing them to marry.

“I hope that sharing my experiences and challenges will build on good works that activists in Japan are doing,” said Hickey in the article.

Another reason for visiting Japan was to screen their documentary “Just Be Gemma,” a story about their gender transformation, and read from their upcoming novel “Almost Feral.”

“The message of the film was to just be yourself and the numerous challenges that I’ve faced in my life, and how I overcame them resonated with a lot of people,” Hickey said.

They say they really enjoyed watching the film again and that seeing it in Japanese subtitles was awesome. They heard the range of emotion in the room as the audience reacted to certain parts of the film, and during the talk back following the film as well as the VIP reception hosted by the Japan Embassy, people were genuinely moved and wanted to learn more about non-binary individuals.

Hickey said it was amazing to visit Japan, and that they were completely embraced by the people there. People treated them with a great deal of respect.

“I was often stopped on the street by people who wanted lots of pictures,” said Hickey.

While in Japan, they met with various diplomats from all over the world, establishing connections and working to make the Embassy in other countries accessible to Canadian travelers.

Hickey also visited Rome a few days after their visit to Japan. But they didn’t go alone. They went with Patricia Dold, an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Religious Studies at Memorial University.

Dold said it was their first trip together, visiting for the Papal Summit on Clergy Perpetrated sexual abuse, not to attend the summit but to be with survivors from all over the world who were doing media events alongside the summit. She went to emotionally support Hickey and also meet other survivors.

“Even just hearing the accounts and the pain of people who have suffered abuse from priests, about how other trusted people like police, family, etc., denied the abuse, how the church continues to deny it — this is all exhausting though I am not myself a victim,” said Dold.

She said one of the best moments with Hickey was when they had lunch in a square around the Pantheon, sitting outside in the warm sun eating pasta. It was their last day in Rome and they had decided to “just chill.” Even then, she says there’s no rest for Hickey, who did a phone interview while they sat.

Hickey said they also visited Germany, London, Brussels, Zurich, etc., and they believed to be the first person to travel to those places with a non-binary passport.

Vicki Hallett, Hickey’s academic supervisor in the Master of Gender Studies Program at Memorial University, said she met Hickey when they took an undergraduate course on feminist postcolonial theory in Gender Studies in September 2014.

One of the best moments with Hickey she says was when Hickey went to Ottawa to work with then Member of Parliament Ryan Cleary to present a proposed bill in the Federal legislature to create a day of remembrance for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Hickey invited her to Parliament Hill to witness the proposal being read in the House, and then to come to the media presentation afterward. Later that evening they watched as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report was made public and were overwhelmed by the emotional toll it took on survivors, and by the significance of the report to all Canadians.

“We were reminded of how we had met in the class on postcolonial theory and how we were committed to being part of reconciliation in whatever way we could be,” says Hallett in an email interview. “It was a real privilege to be there for all of that.”

Hickey runs a non-profit for at-risk youth in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and says have supported many young people who are struggling with sexuality and gender identity. They say they have a strong sense of social responsibility and just wants to help people.

“I know the work I do means that they can feel more comfortable in their own skin,” says Hickey. “Non-binary people up until recently have had no place in society because of the binary. I wanted to carve out that space for me and others like me.”

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