Picking up a Starbucks cup with your name misspelled is a pretty universal experience. But telling the barista a preferred name that does not match your GWorld card – then picking up an order without the preferred name – is an experience that affects transgender students only.
For years, I handed over a GWorld card without my preferred name. At Starbucks and at South Block, I was misgendered because GW required my full legal name on my card. Officials changed the policy this spring, allowing students to print new GWorld cards with their preferred names for free. No one should be required to use their legal name when doing something as simple and arbitrary as buying coffee on their way to class. Allowing students to print new GWorlds is a step forward for transgender individuals.
When I was a freshman, I was disheartened to learn that my legal name was required for my GWorld card, because it was a name that did not reflect who I am as a genderqueer individual. My legal name is far less androgynous, and hearing it reminds me of all the years I spent closeted. College should be an opportunity to start fresh, and I looked forward to only being known by my preferred name for the first time ever.
Three years after starting college, GW finally granted me the ability to feel heard and accepted on campus: It gave me a new GWorld card with my preferred name.
I no longer need to hold my breath or brace myself whenever I order coffee because the barista will only see my preferred name – and my real name – on my GWorld. The policy change prevents students from facing uncomfortable and frustrating situations like hearing their legal name announced at South Block for everyone to hear, outing them as transgender to everyone in their immediate surroundings.
In my first weeks on campus, I spoke about the issue with students and staff of the LGBTQIA Resource Center in the Multicultural Student Services Center. Staff and students were aware of the issue, but at that point in time, they had not persuaded the school to shift its policy. The University previously claimed that using a preferred name was a safety hazard. But the University did not account for trans students who were subjected to being outed by calling them by their legal names.
Students who wanted to change their GWorld cards for whatever reason also needed to pay a $35 fee under the former policy. The fee disproportionately affected trans students, especially those who may have waited until college to transition. Students’ appearances change during transition, eventually to the point where the photo taken freshman year no longer reflects their appearance. Although I did not need to change my photo, other trans students may want to take a new picture. Now when students go to the GWorld Card Office, they can freely change their picture at no additional cost.
Allowing transgender students like myself to use their preferred names instead of their legal names is not merely a matter of preference but prioritizes their health and safety. A study published last fall in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows that rates of depression and suicidal ideation among transgender individuals are consistently lower in instances where transgender individuals are called by their preferred name. Trans students deserve to be called by their preferred names because it is who they are.
The University’s new GWorld policy is a positive step, but there is still more GW can do to support trans students. Our Google accounts still have our full legal names when we create documents and presentations for classes, outing people whenever they need to work on group projects. Our GW Housing e-Services accounts still use our full legal names when we apply for housing and request roommates, forcing us to share our dead names with our peers.
A trans individual should not have to justify their existence and explain their past just to go about their day-to-day life, and a major contributing factor is having a form of identification that reflects who they really are. Thanks to the new change in policy, trans students at GW are a step closer to living as their authentic selves.
Kris Brodeur, a senior double majoring in international affairs and Latin American and hemispheric studies, is a columnist.