City Comptroller Scott Stringer has asked Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza to address the Department of Education’s (DOE) name and gender change request process, which includes a form that excludes non-binary individuals by requiring students to choose a male or female designation.
Stringer, who is running for mayor in 2021, called out the issue in a letter to de Blasio and Carranza on September 30.
“Because the form DOE uses for name and gender change requests requires a binary male or female designation, students who identify as non-binary or who otherwise cannot accurately describe themselves as male or female are unable to complete the form,” the comptroller wrote. “For these students, this means they cannot submit the form and update the name by which they are known to teachers and classmates — information that is so central for students’ self-esteem, social and emotional wellness, and identity.”
Stringer went on to note that the need for reforms is even more urgent because students’ names are visible to classmates and teachers in virtual classrooms during the coronavirus era.
The comptroller also raised questions about whether the lack of inclusivity in the name change process is a sign that the Department of Education could be falling short in other areas surrounding inclusivity for non-binary students. Accordingly, Stringer presented a series of requests to the city to ensure that non-binary students are being properly treated and that teachers and adminstrators are adequately trained to create safe spaces for them.
Brooklyn City Councilmember Mark Treyger, who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Education, echoed the comptroller’s sentiments.
“Every student should feel comfortable and safe while at school and that extends to being able to provide their preferred gender designation on school forms,” Treyger told Gay City News in a written statement. “It’s vital that the DOE recognize non-binary and gender neutral students to establish a more inclusive school community.”
The DOE claims it is working to address the forms, which officials say have remained limited to male and female options in accordance with state and federal reporting requirements that only offer binary options. To that end, the department is also calling for changes to that reporting system in order to better reflect students’ gender diversity.
In a written statement, the department touted its own work on LGBTQ inclusion and voiced a commitment to listening to outside recommendations.
“Every student deserves to feel safe, welcomed, and affirmed in their public school,” DOE deputy press secretary Nathaniel Styer said. “We pursue this goal by being the first large district to hire an LGBTQ program manager, investments in trainings and support to reform classroom culture and curriculum, and a focus on both inclusive policies and effective strategies to prevent bullying. We welcome public input and are always working on improving our policies and practices for inclusion and belonging.”
The department already has existing policies explicitly stating that every student is “entitled to be addressed by the name and pronoun that correspond to the student’s gender identity that they assert at school.” The policy also states that students “are not required to obtain parental consent or a court-ordered name and/ or gender change before being addressed by the name and pronoun that they choose.”
“The City should ensure all children feel welcome in school as they are, especially in these challenging times when nurturing social and emotional wellness could not be more important,” Stringer concluded. “Affirming our non-binary students in all aspects of their educational experience is one simple yet monumental step we can take that is positive, hopeful, inclusive, and progressive.”
A spokesperson for out gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who is the former chair of the City Council’s Education Committee and is currently the only out LGBTQ member of the committee, did not respond to a request for comment for this story by press time.
To sign up for the Gay City News email newsletter, visit gaycitynews.com/newsletter.