It is the duty of schools to make sure that their students feel safe at school. It is their job to create an environment where all students are allowed to flourish and are celebrated for being who they are, writes Ugla Stefanía, referring to a school that is not allowing a trans boy to use his new name.
OPINION I remember the feeling when I first disclosed my trans identity at school. I was incredibly anxious and nervous about how everyone at school were going to treat me, both the students and staff. Would they accept me? Would they use the right name? How would the administrative side of it work? Would the teachers be able to use my new name? Or would they continue to use my old name? Would I be made a laughing-stock?
I grew up on a farm in rural north-west of Iceland. As you can imagine, being trans wasn’t a topic many talked about. I went to menntaskóli (mix between high school and college) at age 16 in a nearby town with a population of around 16.000 people, and there I finally felt like I had the opportunity to be myself. With the help and support of my friends, I finally disclosed to everyone my trans identity. I remember those first days walking down the school corridor. I felt like everyone was staring. I felt like everyone were judging me. It caused me incredible distress, but as the weeks went by it slowly became easier and easier.
“Currently, they are reading out his old name during name calling and all his assignments, tests and documents are on his old name. His parents have reported this to the Ministry of Education, that has refused to take the matter further.”
The second person I ever told I was trans was my student councillor at Verkmenntaskólinn á Akureyri. I told her because I trusted her and I knew she would do her absolute best to help me. Not only did she immediately show her support and offered to help me inform the other staff at school, but she also helped me with my first steps of seeking medical care to start a medical transition. She went out of her way to help me and support me even beyond the walls of the school.
Once I was ready to start using my new name and pronouns, she and other staff at the school made sure there was a meeting set up with the rest of the staff, where they were informed of this. They were all asked to respect my new name and pronouns and were told to use them at all times. Teachers that had me in class were to make sure they used my new name during name calling and preferably on assignments, tests and other documents where possible. This was long before I got my legal name change, but they made sure they accommodated my needs and made sure that I was comfortable as possible.
Not only did this have positive impact on my well-being, but it also allowed me to continue my studies and flourish as a student. I was being respected for who I was, and they created an environment for me that affirmed me and my identity. Aside from a few slip ups to start with, all teachers and staff never used my old name again. This was around 10 years ago.
This is why I was outraged when a young trans boy called Dalvin Smári informed me at a conference earlier this month that his school was not allowing him to use his new name. In a recent episode of Hinseginleikinn on national television in Iceland, he describes his experiences. He recently came out and has been in fighting with his school, Menntaskólinn við Sund, to have it changed within the system. Currently, they are reading out his old name during name calling and all his assignments, tests and documents are on his old name. His parents have reported this to the Ministry of Education, that has refused to take the matter further. This would’ve been my worst nightmare when I was at school. It would’ve totally crushed me, and I am so thankful to Verkmenntaskólinn á Akureyri for respecting me and making sure I felt supported at school.
“It has hard to imagine what is the reasoning of the school and the headmaster not wanting to change their name.”
Several primary schools, secondary schools and at the University of Iceland already allow trans students to change their names within their system despite what their legal name might be. This is vitally important for the well-being of students, and shows an effort in making sure these schools are welcoming of trans students. Trans people have to wait for up to 2 years to have their name legally changed within the system, and you are only able to do so after you turn 18. Trans kids and teenagers are therefore forced to carry a legal name for many years before they can have it changed. The least their school can do is to help and support them.
It has hard to imagine what is the reasoning of the school and the headmaster not wanting to change their name. I am left to wonder whether it is a case of them simply not being well-informed enough about trans issues and if they are not aware of the gravity of the situation. Not only would this be a very simple change to make within the administrative system, but it would be very easy inform the teachers of Dalvin’s new name. The fact they are unwilling to accommodate trans students shows a lack of understanding towards the struggles trans people face and must be driven by ignorance and even prejudice. This wasn’t a problem 10 years ago at my school, and it certainly shouldn’t be today, in 2018.
It is the duty of schools to make sure that their students feel safe at school. It is their job to create an environment where all students are allowed to flourish and are celebrated for being who they are. No student should have to feel distressed and anxious at school because they aren’t being accepted as who they are. This has a serious negative impact on the well-being of this particular student, and will have on all current and future students that are trans. It’s not acceptable for an institution that is supposed to offer quality education and a learning environment to discriminate against their students in this way.
It clearly says in the equality and human rights policy of Menntaskólinn við Sund that no student should be discriminated against because of who they are, and people who belong to minorities should be equal and have equal opportunities within the school. It is time to put the policy into practice and make sure trans students are respected and supported.
I therefore challenge Menntaskólinn við Sund to make these changes and allow Dalvin Smári’s name and identity to be recognised. If they require help with the process, I am more than certain that Samtökin ‘78 or Trans Ísland would be more than willing to offer their help and support. They offer lectures and support on queer issues to schools, which by the sound of it, is sorely needed.
Note: The opinions and viewpoints expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the opinions and viewpoints of the editorial staff of www.gayiceland.is.