Bill would require CA public college diplomas to use transgender students' preferred names

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday January 29, 2020
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Assemblyman David Chiu. Photo: Courtesy Chiu's office
Assemblyman David Chiu. Photo: Courtesy Chiu's office

Transgender and nonbinary students at California's public colleges and universities would be able to have their preferred names on their diplomas instead of their legal names under legislation being introduced Thursday.

Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) is the author of Assembly Bill 2023, titled Affirming Transgender and Nonbinary Student's Names In College. It would allow the students to have their chosen name printed on their college diploma even if they have not gone to court to legally change their name.

"A college diploma represents years of hard work and academic achievement. It shouldn't cause stress or emotional harm by having someone's deadname on it due to outdated school policies," Chiu told the Bay Area Reporter.

Deadnaming refers to the use of a person's pre-transition name they were given at birth.

Chiu's legislation would also set a standardized process for officials at the higher education schools to use when former students seek to have their educational records updated and reissued to reflect their new, legally changed names. The bill also clarifies the types of identification that transgender or nonbinary alumni would need to provide in order to have the correct name updated in their records and have diplomas or transcripts reissued.

According to a draft version of the bill Chiu's office provided to the B.A.R., former students would be able to have their college records updated by showing their new legal name or gender identity on one of the following: a state-issued driver's license; birth certificate; passport; Social Security card; or a court order indicating a name change or a gender change, or that both had been changed.

"A diploma that has the wrong name can have the impact of outing someone who doesn't want to be outed or may feel unsafe in their current situation by coming out as transgender or nonbinary," said Chiu. "Our bill says that a former student can update their records if they provide the institution with government documentation."

Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, is a sponsor of the bill, and the American Civil Liberties Union is lending its support to its passage.

Last year, Chiu was the author of Assembly Bill 711, which required public K-12 schools in the state to update the records for transgender and nonbinary students so that they match their legal name and gender identity. It was the first LGBT rights bill that Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law and took effect January 1.

In recent years there have been efforts to ensure the Golden State's public universities and colleges take steps to provide a welcoming and safe campus for all LGBTQ students. A law adopted in 2017, for instance, required LGBT students to be included in all California community college equity plans for the first time.

City College of San Francisco recently implemented a chosen name system for its trans and nonbinary students and staff. This month the community college's board of trustees adopted a new gender diversity and inclusion policy that, among other things, makes the use of chosen names mandatory except for certain financial and legal documents.

But most of the state's public higher education institutions do not have policies to protect against transgender and nonbinary students from being deadnamed on their diplomas and transcripts, noted Chiu's office in a fact sheet it provided about AB 2023.

In December, the student newspaper at UC Berkeley reported on how Juniperangelica Cordova, who was a senator on the campus' student government and earned a B.A. in ethnic studies last year, was disappointed to see her deadname used on her diploma from the state university.

"I am working with admin to see what is possible, but harm has already been done," Cordova told the Daily Californian. "I hope admin are committed to seeing some kind of change follow through."

Campus spokeswoman Janet Gilmore explained to the paper that the university issues diplomas based on an individual's legal name. The article noted how students can request that their preferred names be used on their campus ID cards and class rosters while attending UC Berkeley.

Cordova, a senior organizer on the collaboration project between the Transgender Law Center and GSA Network, did not respond to a request for comment from the B.A.R. by the paper's deadline Wednesday.

Jen Kwart, a spokeswoman for Chiu, told the B.A.R. that since diplomas are "not a legal document and are more of a ceremonial document," public colleges and universities should be able to come up with an easy way for graduating students to state how they want their name to appear on their diploma.

"We don't feel there is any reason to put up significant barriers in that regard in terms of proving that is the name that you use," Kwart explained.

Chiu's legislation is likely to be first heard by the Assembly's Higher Education Committee this spring, perhaps as soon as March.

Updated, 1/29/20: This story was updated to include the bill number, AB 2023.