The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No longer just male or female: D.C. schools to give families a third option with ‘non-binary’

Some spectators carried rainbow-colored fans to stay cool as they awaited the Capital Pride parade in June in Washington.
Some spectators carried rainbow-colored fans to stay cool as they awaited the Capital Pride parade in June in Washington. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

The District’s public school system is slated to become among the first in the nation to let families select “non-binary” — rather than male or female — when indicating the gender of their child on enrollment forms.

The option is scheduled to go into effect for the next school year, and school system leaders said it is part of a broader effort to ensure that transgender and non-binary students feel welcome in classrooms in the nation’s capital.

“We value the whole child at [D.C. Public Schools], and have worked diligently to ensure our schools are safe and inclusive for all students, staff, and families,” interim chancellor Amanda Alexander said in a statement. “Whether through policies, programs, affinity groups, or our enrollment forms, [D.C. Public Schools] is proud to be a leader in affirming, supporting and welcoming LGBTQ students.”

The change comes as the Trump administration has made efforts to limit the federal recognition of transgender people, with the Education Department abandoning Obama-era guidelines that directed public schools to accommodate transgender students.

Meet the first person in the country to officially receive a gender-neutral driver’s license

In the fall, the Oregon Department of Education unveiled school enrollment forms that allowed families to select “X” if their children do not identify as male or female.

In Minneapolis, the public schools have a way for families to let administrators and teachers know if children do not identify as male or female. Students can also inform the school system if they go by a name other than their given one.

“Non-binary” is a term used for people who do not consider their gender identities strictly male or female, and can include transgender people.

The D.C. enrollment forms will allow teachers to know which students in their classrooms identify as non-binary without families having to inform them. School officials said collecting data on how many students identify as non-binary will ensure that the school system has enough resources available for those students, including access to gender-neutral bathrooms and extracurricular activities.

730DC, a local blog and newsletter, first reported the new enrollment forms.

Joel Baum — senior director of professional development for Gender Spectrum, an advocacy organization focused on gender inclusivity, particularly in schools — said school systems throughout the country have been discussing ways to include in their databases students who do not identify as male or female. He said some jurisdictions face logistical hurdles when attempting to add a third gender option to enrollment forms because their computer systems can categorize students only as male or female.

Often, there’s not the political will to overcome these obstacles or an understanding of why adding the option is important, Baum said.

Trump administration considering ‘different concepts’ regarding transgender rights, with some pushing back internally

The change in the District’s enrollment forms sends an important message to all families, not just those with non-binary children, said Baum, adding that the District is among the first systems in the nation to adopt such a measure.

“It’s an opportunity without being arrogant or obnoxious to show that we support the gender diversity of all our kids,” Baum said. “Every family is going to interface with it. . . . And that communicates something pretty significant.”

The idea to change the enrollment forms emerged during Form-a-Palooza — a District event at which community members were invited to help make government forms more accessible.

In 2017, the District introduced gender-neutral driver’s licenses, which allowed residents to choose among male, female and X as their gender.

Jessica Raven, a local activist focused on gender issues and the mother of a transgender daughter in the school system, said the addition on the enrollment forms signals a more inclusive school community. She said she will probably still check the “female” box for her 4-year-old daughter because she identifies as female.

Raven, who said D.C. teachers have been welcoming and accommodating to her daughter, said it would be more useful if the enrollment forms asked whether a child is transgender. She urged the school system to also focus on ensuring gender-neutral bathrooms exist in all schools — something she worries about as her daughter grows older.

“It’s a step in the right direction, and I hope that it will lead to better accommodation to trans, non-binary and gender-expansive youth,” Raven said.

The treatment of transgender children in schools has been a contentious political issue in recent years. Transgender students throughout the country have sued local governments for denying access to the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

The Supreme Court in 2017 put off ruling on the case of Virginia transgender teen Gavin Grimm, delaying a decision about whether federal laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of sex extend to gender identity. The case was sent back to a lower federal court, which ruled in Grimm’s favor and said the school violated his constitutional rights by denying him access to the boys’ bathroom.

Trump said last month that his administration was considering changing the way it treats transgender people under the law, defining gender as people’s assigned biological sex, not as the gender they identify with.

“There’s been an enormous sea change in how many kids identify this way,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, an LGBT advocacy organization that works on education issues. “This is one of those seemingly small changes that makes an enormous difference.”