Features | Respect the names we want

Preference policies are ineffective and damaging

McGill has a propensity for using legal names in as many circumstances as possible, including class lists, McGill ID cards, and McGill email addresses. This policy has disproportionate effects on trans people, though it’s not exclusively a trans issue. While I can understand why the University would want to use legal names on official documents or in dealing with other organizations, particularly to avoid legal issues, to use the same name consistently in all circumstances, and to avoid bureaucratic confusion, I don’t understand why McGill cannot adopt better policies for its own internal use.

I have experienced many of these problems first-hand. For example, although McGill allows students to enter a “preferred name” on Minerva, only one instructor in one of my classes has ever acknowledged my preferred name. All my other instructors and TAs have taken attendance using my legal name only. There is also the requirement that legal first names appeared before preferred names on class lists. This encourages instructors to read legal names rather than preferred names. If my legal name weren’t on the class lists, this wouldn’t even be an issue. However, I’m somewhat grateful that my “preferred” name doesn’t immediately out me as trans, which is a particular danger for this policy, since someone with a “male-gendered” legal name but a “female-gendered” preferred name – or vice versa – could be instantly outed on class lists.

In contrast, McGill ID cards are a mixed bag. For one thing, there is no explicit gender marker on them, which actually makes them somewhat progressive. However, since the University automatically puts legal names on the cards when issuing them and generally doesn’t allow students to change their names without documentation of a legal name change, they can’t really serve as a reliable piece of identification for trans people in transition, particularly when interacting with various parts of the University. For example, just a few days ago, I went to McGill Health Services to pick up some documents from my doctor. My doctor left the package for Quinn, but the receptionist automatically asked for my McGill ID card, which left me in a position of explaining why the names don’t match. Though I left with the documents in the end, the receptionist was clearly reluctant to hand them over. Furthermore, the lack of preferred names on ID cards prevents trans people from using them as identification in other contexts when they might not be able to use a state-issued ID – a lost opportunity for McGill to become a pioneer on trans issues.

Another aspect of this system affects McGill emails, which is problematic not just for trans people, but for anyone who uses a name that doesn’t match exactly with what McGill has in its records. I have a TA who has a traditionally Spanish legal name, including both the father’s family name and the mother’s; McGill wouldn’t allow a shortening of the email to include only the father’s. There’s no option to change last names without legal documentation, which is problematic for some trans people who want to change their last name for safety or privacy reasons. There is a system in place for changing first names in McGill emails, though I had to dig quite a bit to find it. The guidelines very clearly state that they prefer that emails be based on legal names, and there’s a very clear power differential in the guidelines – McGill is the one who ultimately approves email changes, not students.

I have another vision for McGill. Instead of following the state’s lead in centralizing and standardizing names, McGill should develop more progressive name change policies. I suggest revising class lists so that they no longer require legal first names – only preferred first names, establishing the option to use preferred names on ID cards and allowing, at the very least, sensible changes to last names, such as choosing one last name in McGill emails when, legally, one has more than one. Finally, McGill should make these policy changes public, both to educate people about trans issues and to make their current policies more accessible to students.

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