Grace Ingledue, a junior at UNC and graduate of Chapel Hill High School, came out as transgender the summer before her junior year of high school.
As a high school student, Ingledue said her deadname was shown on school records and would randomly cause issues. At graduation, the middle initial of her deadname was called — just one example of the day-to-day reminders she faced as a high school student.
Three years later, a recent change from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction will now allow North Carolina public school students to list their affirmed name on most state records, like PowerSchool and report cards. This change, which comes at a time when transgender students have faced the threat of being outed due to virtual learning, was made in mid-March.
The NCDPI said in a statement that now, the only report that will display the legal name of a student is the official N.C. transcript. The department has worked with PowerSchool to add the ability to display preferred names for students.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Office of Equity and Inclusion department said in a statement that any student who prefers another name will be benefited. There is no additional process to complete this change or justification needed to do so, the office said.
“The fact that students are now able to change their name in PowerSchool without going through that hellish process is so great,” Ingledue said.
Rebby Kern, the director of education policy for Equality N.C., an organization dedicated to securing rights and protections for the state's LGBTQ+ community, said that this update will allow for transgender students to learn in a way that is confidential and protects their transgender status.
Kern said that when classroom learning went virtual, some transgender students reported being outed because PowerSchool was populating their legal names onto platforms like Google Classroom and Canvas.
“This outing and misgendering often leads to increased rates for trans students of dysphoria, increased cyberbullying, as well as anxiety, depression and other mental health outcomes,” Kern said.
There is going to be a lot of variance district by district, as seen across the board with LGBTQ+ support, Kern said. But they said Equality N.C. is grateful for the districts that have been putting forward the effort to support LGBTQ+, and specifically transgender, students.
This is the latest in a series of changes for Chapel Hill-Carrboro's LGBTQ+ community. In January, Chapel Hill and Carrboro expanded their nondiscrimination ordinances to protect LGBTQ+ community members in terms of public accommodations and employment.
Carrboro Town Council member Damon Seils said this change is an important one for North Carolina and is coming at a time when, especially in the South, there have been new efforts to marginalize and silence transgender youth.
“It is something that is going to literally protect the safety of transgender students,” Seils said. “This isn't just sort of a symbolic act, this is about people's safety and privacy and a students ability to participate in school like any other student.”
Orange County Board of Education Chair Hillary MacKenzie said in her three years as a board member, she has heard many concerns over not being able to have affirmed names in PowerSchool.
MacKenzie said she knows her district and others in the South have had a bad history of accepting LGBTQ+ students, but being able to name these past harms and embrace Orange County’s gender-expansive students is important and something that historically hasn’t been done.
“I think that this is the first step, and then the next step is making sure that these policies are implemented with fidelity and that we are doing the work of educating the community around their importance,” MacKenzie said.
Ingledue said that transgender students face so much trouble because high school is a space where people are trying to figure out who they are and being belittled for it. She added that online learning has only exacerbated this issue, and that schools must make sure that students can interact with their peers as themselves.
“Any policy like this, that kind of normalizes the trans experience or makes accommodations for trans people serves this social role in shifting the culture of trans acceptance a little bit,” Ingledue said.
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