November 9, 2023 - 7:00am

Canadian nurse Amy Hamm first learnt she was under investigation three years ago this month for making “discriminatory and derogatory statements regarding transgender people, while identifying [her]self as a nurse or nurse educator”. The British Columbia College of Nurses and Midwives claimed that Hamm’s off-duty conduct violated the regulatory body’s professional standards around responsibility and accountability, client-focused provision of service, and ethical practice. 

The resulting disciplinary process has now consumed years of the nurse’s life. Hearings in her case have been strung out across 21 days of testimony between September 2022 and November 2023, punctuated with months-long gaps. Hamm’s nursing licence and livelihood hang in the balance. 

So what exactly did she do to warrant such an investigation? In the summer of 2020, Hamm helped co-sponsor an “I ♥ JK Rowling” billboard in Vancouver. She also tweeted and wrote publicly about her concerns around the loss of women-only services and spaces in her free time. 

Three years after Hamm’s ordeal began, she was finally allowed to testify in her own defence this week. After Tuesday’s proceedings adjourned, she sent the following tweet:

In a statement last year, one of Hamm’s lawyers, Lisa Bildy, said that the case is “fundamentally about speech: whether a nurse can publicly debate a topic that is as politically charged as this one […] This case will set an important precedent for regulated professionals who engage in the public square in policy debates which may be contentious, as it seems virtually everything is in these times.” 

Hamm testified that she “always kept [her] private life and [her] political views and private views very separate from [her] work life”. When at work, she said, “I’m there to do my job and to follow the policies of the organisation. Whether or not I agree with certain policies, I limit my advocacy in terms of changing things to when I’m outside of work.” 

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms warned that “professional misconduct must not be permitted to be redefined to include speaking unpopular truths” — in this case, unpopular truths that bear directly on Hamm’s medical training and responsibilities as a nurse and nurse educator. Hamm knows that sex is observed, not “assigned”, at birth. Her case highlights the contradictory expectations professionals in her position face: to pretend to go along with a strange new set of beliefs about sex and gender without forgetting her nursing training, in which sex is not a postmodern riddle but rather a constantly relevant factor in medical evaluation and treatment. 

The disciplinary process is so drawn out and absurd that it could almost serve as a theatre piece for our times — from the actors (Hamm’s lawyers are up against a self-described “old white cisgender queer lawyer with disabilities” who spells her name without any capital letters) to the dialogue to the reviews. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s coverage has been predictably partisan, as indicated by the headline of  a recent piece about her case: “Nurse tells B.C. hearing she’s not transphobic, but calls gender identity ‘metaphysical nonsense.’” The CBC is eager to reprint Hamm’s occasionally insensitive tweets but reluctant to give airtime to the substance of her case. 

When philosopher Kathleen Stock and athletic coach Linda Blade testified as expert witnesses on Hamm’s behalf, opposing counsel declined to ask either woman a single question, perhaps fearing any elaboration on the common-sense views they share with Hamm. “We’ve had language for boys and girls, men and women, since the beginning of time,” Stock testified on Tuesday. “Biology hasn’t gone away” — something a nurse should know better than anyone — “but all of us have lost the ability to freely refer to facts about ourselves, important facts, for instance that we are a sexually dimorphic species.”

Hamm’s ordeal isn’t over yet. After testimony concluded on Wednesday afternoon, the British Columbia College of Nurses and Midwives announced that the process will stretch until at least February 2024. Any victory will have come at a significant cost. 

Eliza Mondegreen is a graduate student in psychiatry and the author of Writing Behavior on Substack.