Philly students can now identify as nonbinary in the school district system

Superintendent Hite said the change was a step towards becoming more “equitable and inclusive.”

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DAN ZAMPOGNA
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Starting on Monday, students can mark their gender as nonbinary in the School District of Philadelphia’s system.

Superintendent William Hite announced the change Thursday afternoon. Students, parents and teachers received email and text notifications of the policy update, which will allow students to update their gender without legal documentation or a parent or guardian’s approval.

“This is an important step forward in our effort to become a more equitable and inclusive school district,” Hite wrote in the announcement.

The notification brought relief for 16-year-old Eros Nguyen, a student at the Academy at Palumbo who is nonbinary. During their freshman year, Nguyen tried to change their gender in the school district’s system — but found the process unclear and ineffective.

They said they visited their school’s main office and were told to write down their gender on a piece of paper. They were assured it would be updated in the system.

“Flash forward to junior year and it turns out they’d never changed it at all,” Nguyen said. “I’m still trying to find the time to consult a school counselor to get that sorted out.”

Under the new policy, Nguyen won’t need to see a school counselor at all. The new process starts with a simple Google form, which students can fill out to inform their school about a change to their name, gender or both.

Students can choose whether they want their updated information to display only via online communication on Google Classroom, or if they want the change to appear on formal documents too — like report cards and assessments.

“I think it’s pretty great,” said Jeffrey Kolman, an art teacher at Bodine High School for International Affairs in Northern Liberties, who is also nonbinary. “It makes the process much easier and puts all of the control in the students’ hands. They don’t need any approval from adults and have less hoops to jump through.”

This change at the Philly school district builds off other updates that have benefitted queer and trans students. Passed in 2016, the district’s Policy 252 affirms students’ right to use bathrooms, wear uniforms and play on the sports teams that align with their gender.

Last year, the school district announced students could change their names in Google Classroom without notifying a parent. And this year, they promised all schools would be equipped with at least one gender-neutral bathroom — though Billy Penn found some have been hard to access.

The updated information will not show up in any state-run systems, per Hite’s announcement. While the district can note that a student identifies as nonbinary, he said they’re also legally required to submit the information listed on one’s legal birth certificate.

“We continue to advocate for similar changes to be adopted at the state and federal levels,” Hite said.

Nguyen’s lingering frustration? That the change took so long to achieve. As their school’s GSA president, they’ve been advocating for it since their freshman year. Each year, they see more and more LGBTQ students affected.

“I’ve had a couple freshmen share their stories of their first day at school and dealing with the horrific sight of seeing their deadname bunched with their chosen name, despite putting in the work months before the school year would start to avoid that situation,” Nguyen said. “It’s nice that these things are happening, but it should’ve been implemented a long time ago.”

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