Lee Kennedy, a communications major at Sacramento State who identifies as transgender and nonbinary, was in a crowded classroom when their professor asked them what their name was before they changed it.
They responded by telling their professor that they didn’t feel comfortable talking about it.
“It’s called a deadname for a reason,” Kennedy said. “It’s not really anybody’s business if I’ve changed my name.”
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Deadnaming is when someone, intentionally or not, refers to a person who is transgender by the name they used before they transitioned.
A 2017 survey of over 12,000 LGBTQ+ youth conducted by the Human Rights Foundation Campaign found that many young people “feel pressure from their families, schools or communities to conform to societal expectations of gender.”
The survey said that those who do not conform and who do not receive “gender-affirming support or are forced to hide their gender identities” are at risk of experiencing higher mental health risks such as depression, anxiety, self harm and suicide.
Assemblymember David Chiu introduced Assembly Bill 2023, formally titled Affirming Transgender And Nonbinary Students’ Names In College, in January. If passed, the bill would allow transgender and nonbinary students to have their preferred names printed on their diploma.
The bill would also streamline a process for public universities to update their records so that the name and gender an individual holds would be reflected on transcripts and diplomas.
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Documents at Sac State and other public universities in California require a student’s legal name. That includes transcripts, financial aid documents and medical records.
Kennedy said that while the issue may not be “significant to cisgender” people — or people who identify as their assigned gender at birth — there is an emotional impact that deadnaming evokes for others.
“When you have to see something or be referred to as something that you don’t feel reflects who you are, it just creates a lot more mental stress and mental instability than people recognize,” Kennedy said. “It’s too much mental and emotional labor to have to navigate around my deadname.”
In August of last year, Assembly Bill 711 was signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom. The bill, introduced by Chiu’s office, ensures that graduates of public K-12 schools in California are able to get their preferred names on their transcripts and diplomas.
Jen Kwart, communications director for Chiu, said their office has heard stories about similar issues affecting transgender and nonbinary students in college.
“We felt like we needed to extend those protections to higher ed,” Kwart said. “Transgender students already face a lot of barriers. And the name on someone’s diploma just really shouldn’t be another barrier that someone has to overcome.”
Kwart said the bill, if passed, would affect the graduating class of 2022 at public universities and community colleges state-wide.
In January, the Division of Inclusive Excellence at Sac State sent out an email informing students of a campus-wide effort to expand preferred name usage.
The change would be reflected in the campus directory and all campus systems, including Canvas and Sac State emails, according to the Preferred Names FAQ site.
However, there are still documents that require a student’s legal name at Sac State, including transcripts, financial aid documents and medical records. In addition, although it isn’t a legal document, students are required to use their legal names on diplomas.
Sac State Vice President of Student Affairs Ed Mills, said the university system requires that a student’s name be on their diploma because it is an “official document.” Mills said that while he would “love to honor the name that someone wants to go by,” anything outside of the university’s regulations becomes a legal matter.
To have a name legally changed, a student would need to go to their local county court anywhere in California and file a Petition for Name Change, according to the California Courts website. The process can take up to three months.
Sac State isn’t the only California public university where this issue has come up. In December of last year, University of California, Berkeley alumna Juniperangelica Cordova spoke out against her university for deadnaming her on her diploma in a tweet.
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Daaaaaam ittttt. 18 years of working toward a college degree and after /everything/ @UCBerkeley put me through … only to finally get my diploma in the mail aND MISS UC “I hate trans people” BERKELEY DEAD NAME$ ME. HAHAHAHA I give up pic.twitter.com/aL2BoaNcdq
— gia onomatopoeia (@missgiagiagia) December 3, 2019
According to a Daily Californian article, the use of Cordova’s deadname in her diploma “entails erasing everything she has worked toward.”
Todd Migliaccio, department chair of sociology at Sac State who specializes in gender studies, said that getting a name change on a diploma is a difficult process.
“They’re being forced to maintain and assume an identity that’s not their identity,” Migliaccio said. “And they’re being forced by a system that doesn’t accept who they are. It’s a reminder that they’re ‘othered.’”
He said that most of this transphobia is push back from normative ideals around gender being challenged. He said that being forced to “challenge that larger perspective” can spark anger.
Rosie Quinzel is a computer science major at Sac State who identifies as a transgender woman. She said the bill would make it “much easier” for her. She wouldn’t need to go to a government agency in order to get her name changed on her diploma and could just go through the school.
“Because of personal reasons, I don’t have access to a lot of my documentation besides my driver’s license, which still doesn’t even have the right name,” Quinzel said.
Quinzel said she’s glad her student identification card has the correct name on it, so she doesn’t have to worry about people she knew before her transition calling her by her deadname.
Kelsey Cole, a child development major who identifies as bisexual, said she agrees transgender students should have their preferred names on their diplomas.
“It’s not like I’m signing up to get a house or something,” Cole said. “It’s my diploma that I earned. I would like my name on it.”
Cole said that while she has never experienced being deadnamed, she does appreciate that since transferring from Sierra College to Sac State, she has had teachers ask, “What do you prefer to go by?”
Kennedy said that it’s tiring to be deadnamed and that this bill will help other transgender students. The bill would make “that one aspect of (their) life so (much) simpler.”