One of America’s most pressing issues.
Chloe Martin-Poteet will be wearing a white cap and gown when she graduates this month. Her brother, Julian, will be dressed in royal blue. It’s part of a two-color tradition at James Hubert Blake High School: girls in one hue, boys in another.
That tradition is ending.
As a growing number of the nation’s schools work to embrace transgender students and enact policies to protect their rights, there’s a movement afoot in Maryland’s Montgomery County to make graduation robes gender-neutral, with one color for all. Some students argue that no one should have to wear a garment that doesn’t reflect who they are, nor should there be any separation between the genders as they all cross into adulthood.
“Some people say it’s just a color, but if it is just a color, why can’t they all be the same color so we can be inclusive?” asks Chloe, a leader in her school’s gay-straight alliance, which has pressed for change in letters to principals at the county’s 25 high schools.
With graduation season here, three Montgomery high schools — Damascus, Sherwood and Walter Johnson — have shifted to single-color robes, and at least five others have decided to make the change for next year’s graduates.
Principals at several of those schools said the student letters played a role in the decision.
“They are all Class of 2015,” said Jennifer Webster, principal at Damascus High, where students graduated late last month in green caps and gowns. “Why differentiate?”
Webster said she has worked with students who are conflicted about which gown color to choose because they associate with one gender yet are listed as another. When she received the letter from students at Blake, it immediately resonated. “You’re right,” she recalled thinking as she read it.
The move comes amid growing awareness of the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students nationwide.
“Schools around the country are beginning to reconsider their policies to ensure that unspoken assumptions and long-held ideas about gender don’t have a discriminatory effect on their students,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of the national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.