My name is Ben Green and I am a recent graduate of Bennington College. I came out as transgender in the Fall semester of my senior year at Bennington to all my friends. My peers and The LGBTQA* community were extremely supportive of my discovery of my true gender identity but I immediately faced struggles with the administration in trying to get the college to recognize my identity.
There was no efficient way to let faculty and staff know about this change. I had to communicate with different offices and parts of the school myself in order to have just my name changed. For example, in order to find out information on how change my name I had to speak to two academic advisors, the Dean, the Dean’s assistant, and other faculty members just to be rejected in the end. There was no specific office or support system that would help me to speak to faculty, staff, and other offices about my new name preference as a transgender student. I emailed the post office and they only changed the outside label on my mailbox. The inner label facing the mailroom still reflected my incorrect name. Then I had to email all of my professors and inform them of my name change, I had to email the rest of the administration to inform them of my name preference, and to ask to change my name on my email address, my transcripts and diploma to my preferred name. These were all minor inconveniences compared to the humiliation of graduating with the wrong name on my diploma.
The administration refused to change my name on my diploma, my email, and on my transcripts. They only allowed me to use my preferred name in the graduation program and to announce my name out loud as Ben Green. Because of Bennington’s refusal to accommodate my wishes, I not only had to graduate with a diploma that will become void when I do legally change my name but I had to show my friends and family, all of whom I had just come out to recently, my diploma with the wrong name. It humiliated me and embarrassed me. On top of all that my diploma cover had a sticker with my preferred name stuck on it to cover my given/wrong name.
As a result I was embarrassed around my family members that my own college would not accommodate me and that it called into question the “validity” of my transition process and name preference. It was difficult enough to work with my family members and friends to help them to transition to using my preferred name, but now I had to deal with conducting damage control for misunderstandings of what the rights of a transgender person should be when it comes to their education.
While it is currently prohibited by the Vermont Anti-Discrimination Act, as well as other Anti-Discrimination Acts being signed into law across the US, for public institutions to force anyone based on gender identity to use their legal names (if they are transgender and have not been able to change their names to what they prefer) for non-legal documents and forms, it is still possible for smaller institutions such as colleges or universities to enforce such insensitive rules.
Beginning in 2007, Vermont passed a non-discrimination act protecting transgender people against discrimination. According to GLAD's guide on the law: The law defines gender identity as “an individual’s actual or perceived gender identity, or genderrelated characteristics intrinsically related to an individual’s gender or genderidentity, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.” Vermont law prohibits discrimination in employment, places of public accommodation, housing, credit, and a variety of services.
It should not be an issue, therefore, to use one's preferred name on documents that have nothing to do with legal issues, regardless of whether or not that preferred name actually has been legalized. Furthermore, when a school that claims to be "LGBT Friendly" as well as holds the title of "Most LGBT Friendly School in the Nation" the administration should stand up for its transgender students.
Transgender students should not have to change their names legally in order to get their diplomas to reflect the names that they identify with. It is embarrassing and insulting to have to legalize your preferred name to prove an institution simply to get your name printed on a non-legal diploma.
Here are the facts: while diplomas may be linked to your jobs eventually or to further applications for education, it is far more practical to have your diploma reflect the name you intend to have if/when you do change it.
Additionally, transgender people are frequently discriminated against. According the 2011 Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey: Transgender and gender non-conforming people face rampant discrimination in every area of life: education, employment, family life, public accommodations, housing, health, police and jails, and ID documents.
As if to add insult to injury, transgender people often have to walk into airports with IDs not reflecting their true gender, apply to jobs using their non-preferred names and face discrimination in bathrooms on a regular basis because they are transgender. It is crucial therefore that institutions like schools protect their students from facing discrimination no matter what.
By introducing themselves with their preferred names but then having to submit identification with their legal (and incorrect) names, transgender people are outed when it may not be safe to do so. By printing their non-preferred names on diplomas and forcing them to submit those to jobs, their well-being is put at risk more than is necessary.
The idea of forcing transgender people to legalize their names simply to get their names on diplomas is ridiculous and unsafe.
Sign the petition and tell Bennington College to put an end to this!
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