PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — In a few weeks, thousands of teenagers in Hampton Roads will walk across the stage to accept their high school diplomas. But one student in York County is racing to court in hopes of getting their name legally changed in time for the ceremony.
Trixie Henry is concerned she will get “deadnamed” when her name is called at graduation. That’s because Trixie — what friends, family, and teachers call the transgender teen — was given a boy’s name at birth.
A “deadname” is the original name given at birth that a transgender or nonbinary person chooses to change, often because it doesn’t align with their gender identity or gender expression.
Across the country, schools are involved in discussions with transgender students and their parents as ceremonies near and diplomas are headed for the press. In Virginia, guidance from the Department of Education indicates, that while most school documents use birth and legal names, families can apply with their school district if they desire to use a chosen name. The education department website has suggested name change forms for school divisions.
Trixie tells 10 On Your Side that in recent weeks, she learned her biological sex could follow her on graduation day.
“The school just texted my mom that I would not be able to cross the stage with my preferred name and that they would use my legal name,” Trixie said.
A schools spokesperson, Katherine Goff, contradicts the Henry family, sayings no decision has been made about graduation. In an email, Goff wrote:
“The division is currently reviewing policies and state requirements regarding student records, including diplomas for the Class of 2022. Any student or family that has inquired about the use of a student’s legal name during graduation ceremonies and student diplomas has been advised that no determination has been made as this matter is still under review.
“The division is committed to fully complying with all state and federal laws providing equal educational opportunities for all students, without regard to race, national origin, gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, color, religion, disability, marital, parental status or any other characteristic protected by law or based on a belief that such characteristic exists.
“At the local level, the division refers to Policy JB – Nondiscrimination, and Policy JO – Student Records. Staff also refer to VDOE guidance regarding student educational records requirements.“
Goff later provided additional information regarding the process.
“The division works with each student and family on a case by case basis, typically through a conference or meeting with the student and/or family. The request is then recorded within the student’s educational records as the preferred name and pronoun.”
“As noted in the state’s guidance, the division’s Student Information System (SIS) uses to the student’s legal name in the fields that are connected to state reporting requirements. The legal name fields in the SIS are tied to the student’s official transcript and educational record. These are also the same fields that generate the official student diploma.”
In a telephone interview, Trixie’s mother, Kristie Henry, questioned the claim that the matter is pending. She described several interactions she and her daughter had with school officials that prompted them to get a lawyer and take the matter to Circuit Court.
Trixie’s attorney, Rebecca Winn, examined the language in the state guidelines and concluded a legal name change is the desired remedy for her client.
“It can actually be traumatizing and a humiliating experience for a young person to walk across the stage in a public manner and to have what some people refer to as your deadname announced in front of the entire auditorium the entire school with everybody’s family and friends gathered around,” said Winn.
Winn told 10 On Your Side if there are other Virginia high school seniors out there in the same situation, she will represent them in court pro-bono. This does not include court and filing fees.
“A young person should never be forced to take drastic legal remedies just to be able to celebrate in the same way all of the other children are without humiliation,” Winn said.