Palm Beach County School District To Require Gender-Neutral Graduation Attire
Graduating seniors at Palm Beach County's public high schools will no longer don traditional gender-specific graduation caps and gowns.
The change in policy came about after the issue was raised School Board Member Erica Whitfield following a request by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), Florida's oldest, independent, non-partisan, political organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
Over the years, PBCHRC has been responsible for the implementation of more than 150 laws and policies providing equal protections, rights, and benefits for the LGBTQ community.
"This is a great day for all children in Palm Beach County," said Whitfield. "I am grateful to the School District for prioritizing equity and continuing to support the needs of all our children."
"While some gender-nonconforming students have come out to their families and friends, others have not," said PBCHRC President and Founder Rand Hoch. "By doing away with the requirement for students to choose graduation colors based on their sex assigned at birth, the School District has taken a signifcant step forward in alleviating potential awkwardness at graduation time."
"When we eliminate the focus on gender by different colored caps and gowns, we put more focus back on the students' accomplishments," said PBCHRC Board Member Carley Cass.
In 2015, gender-nonconforming seniors objecting to their schools' graduation attire rules contactedCass about their concerns. In the years that followed, PBCHRC persuaded a few principals to update graduation rules at their schools to conform with the School District's longstanding LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies.
As more and more gender-nonconforming students expressed their concerns, additional school administrators adopted rules requiring single color caps and gowns for all students.
However, principals at thee high schools --- Lake Worth, Jupiter, and Pahokee -- still refused to abandon the traditional separate colors based on gender. A fourth, Royal Palm Beach High School intended to use two gown colors but let students choose either color regardless of gender.
"Apparently, the principal at Royal Palm Beach High School still doesn't get it," said Hoch. "Sexuality is not binary."
Since there was no uniformity across the School District, Whitfield asked her colleagues to consider a gender-neutral approach by having a single color for each high school's caps and gowns in lieu of separate colors for each gender. The matter was placed on the School Board agenda for the February 3 meeting.
School District General Counsel Shawntoyia Bernard advised School Board Members that the practice of two color, gender-based graduation gowns violated not only eight School District policies, but also federal and state laws.
Following the meeting, Deputy Superintendent of Schools Keith Oswald sent an email to all principals directing them to end the use of gender-specific graduation caps and gowns.
For more than 25 years, Compass LGBTQ Community Center has provided progams and services for LGBTQ youth in Palm Beach County..Compass staff and Board Members were elated with the School District's directive..
"Compass is thrilled the School District continues to support LGBTQ students by making the milestone of graduation inclusive of all gender identities and expressions," said Amanda Canete, the organization's Youth Program Director. "Every day, the staff at Compass sees how enforcing gender expectations on children creates health inequities for our very impressionable youth, especially transgender and non-binary students."
"Since graduation is a time to celebrate achievements, this policy change means no student will have to represent themself as anything other than their own unique self on one of the most important days of a young person's life,” Canete added.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, Inc. is dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The Council promotes equality, through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation, and community outreach.