The New Brunswick government has made a significant change to birth certificates in the province, introducing the option of a third, non-binary gender marker.

Education minister Dominic Cardy made the announcement on Sunday at a conference for LGBTQ+ students and educators in Fredericton.

“It’s definitely a very important step,” says Mark Fellion, director of development at Egale Canada, an advocacy organization that works to advance equality for LGBTQ+ Canadians. “I think New Brunswick is the sixth province to do this, and we know that it’s not necessarily all the way there, but it’s an important first step around being able to have another designator as a gender, rather than just male or female.”

New Brunswickers who wish to get new birth certificates with an updated gender identifier can request one at Service New Brunswick later this year, and it won’t cost them anything.

“As a trans-masculine individual, it’s such an important step in normalizing this kind of community and who we are,” adds conference volunteer Casper Keenan. “It’s a way of showing people that there’s nothing wrong with people who are trans, who are non-binary, or who are gender fluid.”

The Outshine Conference has become a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and teachers across Canada to discuss what’s happening in their schools and communities, and share their own experiences.

“Especially if they come from places that are not very accepting, to have that one weekend that they can be themselves and be open and with like-minded people,” says conference volunteer Veronica Nugent.

“It’s something that’s so empowering to me because it lets you be who you want to be, unapologetically,” adds Casper Keenan.

It’s the first time Egale Canada has brought the Outshine Conference to the Maritimes, and organizers say it is already making a big impact for the youth attending.

“It’s really about skills building, network building, inspiration, and motivation,” explains Mark Fellion, director of development at Egale Canada. “Really helping youth gain valuable skills to bring back to their schools and help create safer spaces for themselves and for the youth to come.”

Alok Vaid-Menon, a gender non-conforming performer and educator, says that conferences like this are especially important in small cities like Fredericton.

“It’s these spaces that are the most important to have these conversations,” says Vaid-Menon. “Because so often when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues, we’re only talking about major cities, and we’re not talking about the life experiences of everyday people.”

Since November 2017, New Brunswick has allowed for a third gender marker to be used on the province’s driver’s licence.

Nova Scotia added a non-binary gender option to its birth certificates in September 2018.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.