A transgender Catholic student in Canada is petitioning to be able to graduate with his chosen name on his diploma, and the student also hopes to make changes in educational policy so that others will have the same opportunity.
CBC reported Damien Crowe, a junior at Assumption College Catholic High School in Windsor, Ontario, will be allowed to graduate with his chosen name once his name is legally changed. But, he is taking action not just for himself, but for other trans students.
The Windsor Star reported:
“Confident and well-spoken, Crowe, 16, doesn’t think he’ll have difficulty getting his chosen name on his graduation papers, but he’s particularly concerned for other transgender students coming after him. To try and make it a smoother process in the future, he plans to address Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board trustees at their April 27 meeting.
“In the two months since launching an online petition on the change.org website, Crowe has collected more than 15,000 signatures calling on the local Catholic school board to allow its trans students ‘to go by chosen name/gender marker regardless of legal validity.’ The petition will be presented at next month’s board meeting.”
The Catholic school board has taken some steps towards allowing trans students to use their chosen names at school. Crowe has been able to change his school email, for instance. But students’ legal names are still used on many documents.
Board superintendent Rosemary LoFaso told CBC:
“‘We have accommodated them by utilizing students’ preferred names and gender pronouns … The issue becomes complicated when students request name changes to official documents without legal documentation; that’s a bigger issue that requires input and co-operation from other governing organizations.’”
Lo Faso added that she will “continue to work with [Crowe] and other students to make sure they feel safe and welcome in our schools.”
The nature of that cooperation is not always clear, according to the Windsor Star:
“Part of the problem … is what Crowe feels is the issue being ‘tossed back and forth’ between the local and provincial levels, with the transgender student community caught in between.
“Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, ‘all youth have a right to self-identify and express their gender identity while accessing education services,’ and the Ontario Human Rights Commission states further that provincial policy ‘includes the right of students to have their lived gender reflected in official records.’
“But the Ministry of Education defers implementation of that policy to ‘locally elected trustees who have decision-making authority over school board-specific matters.’”
Trans students as well as school employees are trying to navigate these often unclear decisions. That confusion has a real cost, as not using a students’ chosen name can be upsetting and dangerous. Crowe told CBC:
‘‘’Just recently, I had a teacher of mine very suddenly and randomly call me by my legal name, which was a shock to me and literally everyone else in the room because I was in class, in person, and I had a terrible time. I had to leave the class and excuse myself.
“‘‘Normally I can keep my composure in those types of situations, but in that moment, I hadn’t been called my legal name in three years,’ he said. ‘I just couldn’t do it. And it could have put me in a potentially dangerous situation … I could have been immediately bullied afterwards.’”
Crowe has had to delete his social media accounts due to harassment in the past.
Legally changing a person’s name can be expensive and difficult to navigate, even for adults. Those burdens are heightened for trans youth, who may not have the support of family members in changing their names.
Allowing students to use their chosen names in as many situations as possible might cause some administrative challenges, but it is worth doing so to protect students’ safety and comfort. With some creativity and willingness to prioritize their students’ wellbeing, hopefully this Catholic school board and others will be able to take even more steps to care for their trans students.
—Mac Svolos, New Ways Ministry, April 19, 2021