A new policy, which requires teachers to call students by their listed birth name instead of a preferred nickname, has stirred up much controversy among transgender students. The ethical ramifications of these decisions became particularly clear to me when interviewing transgender students who are required to be called a name they feel does not match their identity.
NHS Sophomore Max Famiglietti-Mueller, a transgender student,named several issues with the new policy. “A lot of people have their issues and insecurities(with their identity) and they want to change their name. I hate it, it forces kids who don’t identify with that name because they’re transgender to be called their birth name.”
But for Max, the problem extends even further than identity, “School can be an escape from discrimination (students experience at home) but because of this policy kids are forced into being called a name they don’t want to be called.”
Sage Whitman, another transgender student, agrees, stating that “if someone wants people to call them a different name they should be able to have that. For transgender people when someone calls you by your birth name they’re basically saying I don’t care about who you are and am forming my own bias.”
Both Sage and Max are active participants of the Queer Students Alliance, a club in which students bring much needed awareness to the struggles that encapsulate the everyday lives of gay and transgender individuals. I recently attended one of these meetings as students planned for Pride Week, where they celebrate people that are discriminated against based on their sexual orientation.
After hearing Sage and Max’s comments I began to think to myself, if I was an individual who felt my name didn’t represent who I was as a person, would I be OK if people called me that? No I would feel like I was being pushed down by other people and alienated from my identity. Adolescence is a time to discover yourself and not be constricted into an identity that doesn’t fit your true self. I am against this policy because it hurts transgender students who want to change their name to match what they consider to be their true identity, having this policy not only restricts them from doing so but also discourages them from expressing their true selves in a school environment.
Principal Bryan Lombardi disagrees. “At one point there was a teacher who could only identify a student by their nickname and that student got into an accident and we weren’t able to identify who that student was.” Lombardi went on to discuss which students he thought should be allowed to change their name stating, “If a transgender student wants to change their name to a random street nickname such as Big J, we wouldn’t call them that, but if a student wants to change their name to (something legitimate) due to gender and culture we’ll work with the parents for that.”
I recognize that Mr. Lombardi wants to maintain a safe school environment after what was probably a horrific accident, but is it really OK to decide what names are legitimate or not? I don’t think so. If someone wants to be called a name other than their own that’s their decision and not one to be decided by the principal or even the parents of that student. To say a name like “Big J” is somehow less legitimate than names like John or Julie is an opinion and devalues an individual’s right to express their identity through the choice of their name no matter how strange, funny, or unappealing it may sound to anyone.
So I propose a solution to this problem. Make sure each and every teacher is aware of a student’s nickname and birth name at the start of the school year by having a student sign a sheet writing the two names. Then have administrators put a student’s nickname next to their birth name on the attendance roster, so that they are aware of that student’s nickname and birth name in case they’re asked to identify a student in an emergency situation. If both of this steps are completed, not only will students who wish to be called by their nickname have their needs met, but the administration will be able to rest easy knowing they can identify that student whenever or wherever an emergency is taking place. I implore Principal Lombardi, the administration, and teachers to take these necessary steps to ensure we have a different and more accepting nickname policy. Trust me, we will all be better for it.