Gerrit Hickman (right) was able to wear his hair long due to an exemption and by conforming to female dress standards. (Contributed)

Shuswap air cadet contests Department of National Defence gender policy

Haircut regulation inspires challenge around gender identity

A 13-year-old boy is contesting a policy in the Air Cadet program which he believes is gender exclusive.

Gerrit Hickman, an air cadet with 222 Shuswap Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron, had his blonde shoulder-length hair cut off on July 19.

His head is now shaved down to gender-dependent standards set by the cadet program.

Since the fall of 2018, Hickman was able to keep his hair long due to an exemption granted by Maj. Scott Bissell, the officer in charge for the Interior.

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Even though Hickman had an exemption from the male hair standard, he still met standards set for female cadets.

He accomplished this by braiding his hair and pulling it into a tight bun each time he dressed in uniform.

However, this exemption only applied on a local level so in May, when Hickman was accepted to a summer training course at Albert Head Cadet Training Centre in Victoria, he was again told he must cut his hair.

The haircut regulation for cadets states that male cadet hair should be taper-trimmed at the back, sides and above the ears.

The regulation also states that male hair must not fall below the top of the eyebrows.

At this point Dani Hickman, Gerrit’s mother, emailed a letter to the Minister of Defence Lt. Col. Harjit Sajjan, in order to change the regulation.

In the letter, Dani Hickman cited the Canadian Human Rights Act, saying that on the basis of gender identity her son should be able to keep abiding by the female hair standard.

“Gerrit feels strongly that if female and transgender cadets are allowed to have long hair, he should be able to as well,” Hickman wrote.

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Nearly a month later, Dani and her son received a response from Isabelle Daoust, the Defence Corporate Secretary on the minister’s behalf.

In the reply, Daoust cited the cadet dress standards and encouraged Gerrit to “reconsider his position,” also saying the policies and regulations must be consistently applied across the more than 54,000 participating Canadian youth.

It was this response that led to the fateful trip to the Abstract Salon in Salmon Arm, to Gerrit’s dismay.

“It’s part of my identity,” Gerrit said. “Many people aren’t going to recognize me.”

Gerrit was inspired to pursue this issue because he has many classmates who are within the LGBTQ spectrum.

“I think the policy should be long hair/short hair instead of male and female,” Gerrit said.

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The Department of National Defence referred to the defining principles which characterize the cadet program.

“There will be no artificial barriers developed which preclude participation based on gender, race, culture, religion, education, socioeconomic status or ability, and all reasonable efforts to accommodate will be made,” the first principle states.

“This is where I think the haircut policy based on long hair/short hair, rather than male/female, would come into effect,” Dani Hickman said.

Gerrit leaves for camp Sunday morning, July 21.


@CameronJHT
Cameron.thomson@saobserver.net

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Before and after Gerrit Hickman’s haircut at Abstract Salon in Salmon Arm on Friday, July 19. (Contributed)

Gerrit Hickman, an air cadet with 222 Shuswap Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron, is contesting a policy in the Air Cadet program which he believes is gender exclusive. (Cameron Thomson - Salmon Arm Observer)

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