Windsor

Transgender student in Windsor fights to get chosen name on high school diploma

Sixteen-year-old Damien Crowe, a Windsor transgender student, wants to graduate with his chosen name on his high school diploma, but won't be allowed to until it's legally changed. Damien says transgender students should be allowed to use their chosen names and gender marker, regardless of legal documentation. 

'Damien is who I am, not my birth name,' says the 16-year-old Ontario high school student

Damien Crowe, 16, wants to graduate from high school with his chosen name on his diploma, but has run into legal obstacles. 'I changed my name for a reason,' says Damien. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

Sixteen-year-old Damien Crowe, a Windsor, Ont., transgender student, wants to graduate from high school with his chosen name on his diploma, but won't be allowed to until it's legally changed. 

Damien is in the process of changing his name, and launched a petition this year calling on Ontario's Ministry of Education and the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) to allow transgender students to go by their chosen names and gender marker, regardless of legal documentation. 

My legal name isn't who I am.- Damien Crowe, Windsor, Ont., high school student

The petition had more than 15,000 signatures as of Wednesday. 

Damien is in Grade 11 at Assumption College Catholic High School, and isn't set to graduate until next year. He recently got his school email changed to his chosen name, but wants it applied on all documents.

"It still kind of hurts because my legal name isn't who I am," he said. "I know a lot of people would like to argue otherwise. It's not who I am. I changed my name for a reason.

"It's not just affirming my gender or affirming my identity. It's affirming me as a whole because Damien is who I am, not my birth name. Not my legal name." 

Damien's petition, started two months ago, had more than 15,000 signatures as of Wednesday. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

Following the launch of the petition, Damien experienced an incident at school — he was outed in class and it reminded him of why his initiative is important.

"Just recently, I had a teacher of mine very suddenly and randomly call me by my legal name, which was a shock to me and literally everyone else in the room because I was in class, in person, and I had a terrible time. I had to leave the class and excuse myself.

"Normally I can keep my composure in those types of situations, but in that moment, I hadn't been called my legal name in three years," he said. "I just couldn't do it. And it could have put me in a potentially dangerous situation ... I could have been immediately bullied afterwards."

Long-term negative effects

In the online petition, Damien explains how when there aren't protective measures in place for transgender students, it puts them in vulnerable situations, and at risk for bullying, harassment and self-loathing that can have lasting effects.

"Kids need to be safe at schools. Kids need to be given supportive, caring environments throughout their development," he said. "If we're exposed to so much bullying and negativity in our lives, it's going to shape us into that.

"It's going to make things hard for us later in life as we continue to deal with that, because we may internalize it ... It'll turn into some type of self-hatred and self-loathing and we may project it onto other people."

Damien said he recently got his school email changed to his chosen name, but wants it applied on all documents. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

Damien said he appreciates the overwhelming support he's received online.

Dozens on the petition commented about their own experiences and expressed the need for change in the school system.

Catholic board updating practices

In a statement to CBC News, WECDSB Supt. Rosemary LoFaso said the board has received similar requests regarding using preferred names.

"We have accommodated them by utilizing students' preferred names and gender pronouns," said LoFaso.

The issue becomes complicated when students request name changes to official documents without legal documentation; that's a bigger issue that requires input and co-operation from other governing organizations.- Supt. Rosemary LoFaso, Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board, in statement to CBC News

"The issue becomes complicated when students request name changes to official documents without legal documentation; that's a bigger issue that requires input and co-operation from other governing organizations."

LoFaso said the school board continues to work with its legal team and the ministry to determine what it can do, and to update its procedures and practices so it can support, respect and accommodate students. 

In an email to CBC News, the Ministry of Education said it values the full range of diversity among its students and aims to create inclusive school environments.

"As part of the ongoing work toward creating safe and inclusive environments for all students, the ministry recently expanded the list of student gender values that are collected through the Ontario School Information System (OnSIS) to enable students to specify their gender," the email said. "However, school boards are responsible for the collection and communication of this information from families/students."

It continued to say that school boards need to comply with certain statutes and legislation, including the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, to protect students' personal information. 

Damien is set to hold a presentation on the matter to the school board next month. 

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