(Ottawa, Monday, August 21st, 2017)

Congratulations to Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa on this wonderful flag raising ceremony to kick off Pride week celebrations.  Thank you Janique, Andre, and so many others, for including us in your celebration of diversity and equity; today and throughout the year.  We are proud to be a part of the CAS Fostering family community, and Ottawa Capital Pride.

I know you are not here to hear me speak, it is this young person who you want to hear from.  I will only take a few moments of your time, to enjoy this rare privilege, the opportunity to introduce you to our eleven-year-old daughter, Charlie.

Charlie gained some notoriety in the last 18 months because of her courage to speak out to educate and improve the lives of transgender and gender fluid people everywhere. Now you may be wondering – how did an eleven-year-old get involved in Pride?  How did she get to be Grand Marshal of last year’s pride parade?  Well I am here to tell you that… we don’t really know. It certainly wasn’t part of the plan.  We just followed Charlie’s lead and supported her when she said she wanted to DO something to educate the misinformed about gender variance in kids like her.

She wanted to visit the Senate with Gender Mosaic in 2014 and then that spring she joined the local LGBTQ2IS+ community to launch a protest called “Occupotty” on Parliament hill to get C279 passed.  We helped her bring toilet seats, microphones, and protest signs, to the Hill to sing “Let us Pee” and it was there that Charlie delivered her first, unrehearsed, off-the-cuff, speech.

The second time she delivered an impromptu speech was one year later, alongside the Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson Raybould, when Bill C16 was tabled by the Liberal government, at the House of Commons.  One moment she was holding our hand in the background of the foyer, and the next moment she was at the front of the media scrum with the Minister.  I must say though, that Charlie and the Minister have a special connection – and it was electrifying to watch.

Yes, we, her mum and dad, were shocked on these occasions of Charlie’s natural outspokenness, as the first time she spoke publicly without preparation, she was only eight years old, the second time she was only ten.  But since Charlie was very young we have repeatedly been shocked by what she can do, her knowledge of cars, ability to spell, gregarious personality and natural language talents – we have grown quite accustomed to being surprized by her.

Everything just snowballed rather quickly after her moment with the Minister.  We saw our kid on news channels and in magazine articles – and all we could do was act as her agent, security team, chauffeur, and Fan Club President and Vice President.  And though it has been a fun ride with lots of amazing learning experiences for all of us, for Charlie, it has been very special. From hearing Barack Obama speak at Parliament to winning a Femmy Award, she takes it all in stride with good humour, kindness and endless chutzpah.  What a privilege it has been to bear witness to her blossoming as a person of integrity.

People always ask us how we came to accept Charlie’s gender variance, and we explain that it was a learning process for us – because at first, we just thought Charlie might be gay.  We presumed we wouldn’t have to deal with issues of sexual orientation until puberty hit – so we promptly dismissed her effeminate expressions of self as nothing of concern, a natural phase of role playing in child development.  Still, in the back of our minds, there was always the thought that since Charlie was so full of surprizes, we might come home from a ‘date night’ sometime to find the house entirely redecorated.

You see, we never thought it was our job to tell Charlie who she ought to be.  We thought it a lot more fun to listen to her, and let her explain to us and teach us who she IS. We were taught that to get respect you must give it, no matter our age.  Even though we were open minded, we realized that it wasn’t just Charlie who had Gender dysphoria, it was us parents who had to overcome our own gender bias.  In a way, it is our children who teach us unconditional love, not the other way around.  Kinda like insanity is hereditary – you get it from your kids!

But notoriety like that Charlie has garnered over the last few years– has its drawbacks.  Suddenly her anonymity at school was gone, she could no longer ‘blend’ in what we call ‘stealth’ mode.  Suddenly people treated her differently – some with love and support – some with unkindness and cruelty.  In some places, her outspoken nature was ‘restrained’ by those who disagreed or didn’t understand, and suddenly she and her parents became subjects of public ridicule, accused of bias, arrogance, or ego.  Our support circle shrunk, as each judgemental friend or family member out themselves as unfair, simply by their unwillingness to engage us in a constructive discussion.  We are often baffled as to why it is so difficult to understand our child’s right to be authentic, safe, and respected.

Since she was eight years old, Charlie has of her own volition, hosted protests, spoken to all kinds of media, presented workshops and speeches, all to improve inclusivity and understanding of transgender and gender fluid people.  She has put herself out there, endured bullying, dirty looks, and too often painful loneliness so that other kids will not be afraid to be themselves and find support.  She has met Ministers and Senators asking only to be heard, and played a significant role in the success of Bill C-16 and Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code, to reflect gender diversity.  All she ever asked for herself, and others like her, to have a chance to be heard, understood, accepted.  She wants and deserves the right to ‘just be’.

Unfortunately, she was not invited to speak at the Senate Committee hearings this past spring, but as a measure of her maturity, Charlie showed up to support those families who were speaking, and join those who had gathered – among them, many many more kids and parents than the years previous.  We were all pleased so many more participated at such a crucial point in the parliamentary process.

While in the Senate Committee room, one mother responded to Charlie’s tears by saying that the world had already heard her story, that they wanted to hear from others instead.  This made Charlie feel small – and cry harder, on what was already a difficult day.  Nevertheless, Charlie listened attentively to the proceedings, and thanked those who came out in support, ever hopeful the laws that would protect her – would finally pass. Bill C16 finally did pass.  She had a hand in making history.  We could not be prouder of her efforts.

The problem is – that mother’s comment to Charlie reflects a bigger problem in our society, whether on social media, engaging in the political process, or even when becoming foster parents.  It is presumptuous to think that because you hear one part of a story, you know the whole story.  Chimimandie Adichie writes beautifully of the danger of believing in a single story, even though she too, as a feminist leader, believes only in a single story of womanhood.

Because you see, nobody really knows Charlie’s story yet.  Her story has only just begun, and she won’t be writing it down for a few more years yet, except for little bits she shares on her webpage.  Nobody knows her really – they see a public persona that is genuine and real and natural, an amazing kid who loves cars, parkour, public speaking, cats and steam punk…. but they do not ‘know’ her story.

Years ago, I expected, wanted, and celebrated the son that was born to me, and today I celebrate, value, respect and admire the beautiful and talented young woman, she is becoming.  I will never deny all the stories of her history, for she has nothing to ever be ashamed of.  But I know I would be ashamed of myself, if I ever made her doubt for one minute, that she is absolutely everything I ever wanted in a kid, no matter her gender identity.  She inspires me every day.

Just to prove to you there are many stories to be written in Charlie’s book yet – let me close by sharing a family story with you that no one has ever heard.

Every night, before Charlie goes to bed, since the day she was born, we have read a book, told a story, or reflected on the day (or the day to come) with cuddles, kisses and hugs.

At first, I would hold him in the rocking chair with his ‘bubba’ as I recited the tale of the three little pigs.  When the wolf would blow down a house, I would blow over Charlie baby’s face, and he would stop drinking his bubba long enough to exclaim with delight, gurgles, giggles and gas.  As Charlie grew older, we played a game called ‘mummy gets all the hugs’ before bed, which had me and dad chasing Charlie all over the house – playing hide and seek – the competition was for the reward of a Charlie hug.

Today we still cuddle every night at bedtime, knowing our pretend fight over whose turn it is, is just one more way we can show Charlie how much we both value her time, and character.  Me and her dad have made such a big deal about this nightly routine, because we anticipate there will likely come a time when our silly games will no longer be welcome.

But the real reason we cannot let go of this routine, is because every night, without fail, as I leave Charlie’s bedroom, she tells me I am the best mom in the world.  She even wrote it on a plaque for me.  She put it in writing when she was three years old.  She says the same thing – on his nights – to her dad.

And so, every night we parents’ go to sleep thinking of ways we can live up to her great expectation of us, and never give her reason to doubt the trust and faith she has placed in us.  She is such a precious gift.

Ladies, gentlemen, and all in between, or not at all; Folks. Friends. Allow me to introduce you to our beautiful and talented daughter, Charlie Lowthian-Rickert.