Across the United States, millions of seniors are getting ready to walk across the stage in graduation ceremonies. This time can bittersweet for transgender students. Two instances of transgender students, in different parts of the country, have reminded us that schools can often fail to support transgender students and treat them with respect.
Damian Garcia, a transgender student at Saint Pius High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is being forced by his school to wear a white gown during the graduation ceremonies. At Saint Pius, a white gown is only worn by female students however Damian identifies as a male. After requesting to wear a black gown, the color worn by male students, school officials denied his request. “I just want to walk in my black robe, nice and proud and have that memory to look back on with my family and friends; I would rather not walk than to embarrass myself by wearing a female robe,” Damian said. While Damian had his name legally changed last year, his birth certificate still displays his birth gender as female.
Faculty and students at Saint Pius have been accepting and sensitive to Damian and his decision to transition. They have called Damian by his correct name and identify him as a male. When questioned about the decision, the superintendent stated that "saint Pius goes by what the student's birth certificate says if there's any question on what gender-color they wear at graduation."
Damian's father, Luis Garcia, feels the schools decision is heartbreaking. “All you want in life is to see your kids happy and healthy. You never want to see them suffer or being ridiculed or be made fun of," he stated.
Across the country, at Red Lion Area High School in Pennsylvania, Issak Wolfe is facing a struggle of his own. Issak is a transgender graduating senior who began his transition the summer before his junior year and has been going by the name Issak for the past two years. However, his school has refused to read his name during the graduation ceremony because it is not the one on his birth certificate. Earlier this year, school administration officials refused to let Issak run for prom king, telling him he was only eligible to run for prom queen because they did not identify him as male. The school has said they will only read Issak if he has it legally changed, which is a long and complicated process in Pennsylvania.
In states across America, the process for changing gender markers on legal documents can be easier for some than others. In states such has Maryland or Massachutes, one must simply send a letter from their physician or endocrinologist and psychotherapist to the necessary office stating that they are undergoing hormone replacement therapy, are being supervised and the length of time thus far the individual has been undergoing said treatment. Currently in the state of New Mexico, one must undergo gender reassignment surgery before having their birth certificate gender marker changed to represent their new gender.
Currently, there is a campaign to provide support for Issak. Nearly 1,000 people from around the world have signed a virtual graduation card for Issak, offering their support for him and congratulations on making it through the obstacles he faced in high school. The card reads, in part:
Isaak, you have bravely challenged wildly unfair discrimination in the past year. Those who refuse to recognize who you are by acknowledging your name and identify are not on the right side of history. Although history may not change enough in time for your graduation, we support your right to have Issak Wolfe proudly announced while receiving your diploma. Furthermore, we commend actions you’ve already taken to positively change attitudes towards the transgender community in Pennsylvania and beyond!
GLAAD wants all LGBT youth to know they are here to give them a voice and help with assisting them in correctly fighting for rights and privileges that are being denied. Every student deserves to express themselves and GLAAD is here to ensure they do so freely. In this graduation season, if you encounter instances of LGBT discrimination, please report it to GLAAD.