As of June 10, students at McGill will be able to use their preferred, rather than legal, name on unofficial documents such as McGill ID cards, class lists, student advising transcripts, and exam rosters.
However, students’ legal name will still be used on official documents, used by organizations outside of McGill. According to McGill’s website, these documents include official university transcripts, reports to government, letters of attestation, diplomas and certificates, and tuition fee e-bills.
McGill Registrar Kathleen Massey announced the change in an email to staff on June 6. “The University intends to phase in the use of students’ preferred first name in information systems and on all unofficial University documents over the course of the 2013-2014 academic year.”
Since 2006, students have been able to indicate a preferred name on Minerva, which appeared in parentheses next to their legal name on class lists. However, this name did not appear on any other University documents.
According to Massey’s email, approximately 11 per cent of students at McGill use a preferred first name. This includes students who wish to be addressed by nicknames or middle names, but the new policy change is “of special benefit to [trans*] and gender non-conforming students whose legal first name does not match their gender identity or presentation.”
This policy change does not extend to the MyCourses or Minerva online portals. Although students may create an email alias – allowing their email to appear as “email@example.com” – they still need to log into the online portals using their legal first name.
“There is a relatively complex technical reason for this and the University is working to introduce changes that will, if successfully implemented, result in the preferred first name being used in all the systems mentioned and…also…within MyCourses,” Massey wrote in an email to The Daily.
There are other areas that the policy change does not cover. Postal mail from McGill – which, Massey noted, usually consists of official documentation such as a transcripts, a confirmation of enrolment, or a diploma – will still bear the legal name.
According to Gabrielle Bouchard, the Peer Support and Trans Advocacy Coordinator at the Centre for Gender Advocacy, the use of a legal name on postal mail can be problematic. “This point is super important because [housing], especially shared [housing], can be a significant place of outing for [trans*] people and can lead to dangerous situations,” Bouchard wrote to The Daily in an email.
Students may also incur additional charges by changing the name on their ID card. McGill will only waive the $25 replacement fee for students changing their preferred name before September 30, 2013.
According to Bouchard, Concordia and University of Toronto both waive ID card replacement fees for students who wish to change their preferred name – and do not have a time limit.
“The need for one to change their name is not frivolous and helping them by not charging a fee for this would be great,” Bouchard wrote. “It would go a long way to help [trans*] and gender non-conforming students who are often marginalized and in precarious situations.”
Concordia’s preferred name policy – nearly identical to McGill’s, but without the fees – has been in place for the past school year after Ben Boudreau, a student, fought to have his preferred name displayed on university documents.
According to Bouchard, the newly implemented preferred name change policy at Concordia has been a success.
“Since that policy [at Concordia] has been implemented, we have not had people coming to the [CGA] requiring help to find strategies on how to [live] their academic life with the dichotomy between their legal name and their name of common usage which was much more common before,” Bouchard wrote in an email to The Daily. “Now, they … go about their lives without worry of being outed at least because of their student identity.”
Despite problems with official mail, online portals, and ID card fees, Bouchard praised McGill’s policy change as a “positive step”.
Although this policy makes it easier to use a preferred name in a university setting, Quebec is one of the strictest provinces when it comes to changing a legal name. The Directeur de l’état civil requires evidence that the preferred name has been used for at least five years, and applications are processed on a case-by-case basis.
Quebec is also the most expensive province for name changes – it sometimes can cost over $500 when administrative and application costs are factored in. In addition, changing one’s legal name is also not always desired or possible.