In a move that has stirred controversy, Howard County school officials will require that caps and gowns for graduation be gender-neutral. Instead of boys wearing one color and girls another, one color will be used. This decision is intended to make transgender students feel more comfortable.
“I understand it’s going to be hard for some, because it’s hard to break from tradition and a lot of parents have strong memories of being in school colors at graduation,” Catherine Hyde, mother of a transgender graduate of Marriotts Ridge High School and a parent facilitator for the Howard County chapter of PFLAG, told the Sun. “This is a move that will help all of our students feel more comfortable and welcomed.”
The Maryland State Department of Education issued non-binding recommendations in October for providing “safe spaces” for gender-nonconforming students, according to the Sun. The Department encouraged school systems to “consider gender neutral dress codes for class or yearbook photos, honor society ceremonies, graduation ceremonies, or dances.”
Not everybody agrees with the decision. Anne-Marie Colgrave, whose daughter is graduating from Marriotts Ridge H.S. in May, told the Sun, “Why take away tradition? Forcing gender neutral, this causes animosity instead of promoting diversity,” she said. “They’re trying to support the minorities, but you’re making yourself stand out because you’re a minority, and there will be backlash. It’s not going to help your cause, it’s going to hurt it.”
But Patrick Paschall, executive director of FreeState Legal and Equality Maryland, believes the action will be helpful. “We know that LGBT youth experience discrimination and bullying and harassment in schools. This decision by Howard County is an opportunity to remove one more barrier,” he told WJZ-CBS Baltimore.