An increasing number of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland are opting to use gender-neutral caps and gowns for their graduation ceremonies in an effort to acknowledge students who are transgender or are questioning their identity.
So far three high schools in the county have switched to using one color for graduation robes for all students rather than giving one color of robes to boys and another color to girls. Another 5 high schools have plans to make the switch for the class of 2016. “They are all Class of 2015,” said Jennifer Webster, the principal of Damascus High School, to the Washington Post. “Why differentiate?”
While a number of principals say they allow students to choose which color robe they wear for graduation ceremonies, student advocates argue that such a policy does not include students who are questioning their identity, and causes others to feel pressure to come out when they are not ready, writes Donna St. George for The Washington Post.
The Gay Straight Alliance at James Hubert Blake High School in Maryland, called Allies 4 Equality, have written to principals across the country in an effort to promote similar changes. They argue that college graduation robes are all one color, and that “same-color robes make it easier for staff to organize students and for families watching the ceremony to follow along… Best of all, students will only be recognized for their accomplishments, which is the true meaning of the ceremony.”
Similar efforts are occurring throughout the nation. Members of the Gay, Straight, Transgender Alliance at Kennet High School in Conway, New Hampshire pushed their local school board to allow students to pick which color robe they wear for graduation. In Fostoria, Ohio, a student who was born a male but lived as a female was allowed to wear the same robes as the other girls to the school’s 2013 graduation ceremony, reports Julia Glum for the International Business Times.
“It’s a tricky situation,” Fostoria Board of Education President Thomas Guernsey told LGBTQ Nation at the time. “It’s probably going to happen more and more as society evolves in this manner, and this probably won’t be the last time we deal with this.”
Not every school has been so open to the increasing changes. Albuquerque transgender student Damian Garcia chose not to attend graduation two years ago after school officials told him he was required to wear the same color robes as the girls at the school. Despite a legal change to his name, his birth certificate still said he was a girl, which was the basis for the school’s decision.