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The right to change your name: How McGill must support trans students


At McGill, it is impossible for students to change their names on official university documents without legal documentation. If you do not go by your birth name, and have not legally changed your name, the University will not display your chosen name on your official transcripts or diploma. Although McGill allows you to choose your “preferred”  first name in some situations — such as on student cards and the myCourses class list — “preferred” names will not appear on your final degree, official transcripts, reports to the government, and other official documents. While this may seem reasonable to the McGill administration, it isn’t to transgender and nonbinary students, who are adversely affected by McGill’s request for legal documentation to approve name changes on official documents. Nor is McGill the norm; other universities do not require legal documentation to change trans students’ names. McGill should acknowledge the difficulties already faced by trans students who want their identity to be recognized, and should take action to make name changes an easier and more accessible process.

Firstly, for some trans people, interacting with birth names can cause anxiety and gender dysphoria — intense discomfort over one’s experience of gender in their body and in social relations. Secondly, the use of a trans person’s birth name on official university documents could ‘out’ them as trans to people, placing them in unsafe situations. For example, a trans person may be outed without their consent in an interview where their official transcript is requested, potentially subjecting them to transphobia and discriminatory employment practices. It should always be a trans person’s own decision to share their trans identity, not that of McGill through the forced use of legal names on official documents.

In addition, changing your legal name in Quebec is a long, expensive, and arduous process. The request must be brought directly to the Directeur de l’état civil, who then decides whether a name change is ‘appropriate’ given the applicant’s situation. Trans people do not need cisgender gatekeepers to tell them what is and is not ‘appropriate’ for their situation. A name change in Quebec also involves the publishing of name change documents to the Directeur de l’état civil website, making it very easy to out a trans person after a name change. Furthermore, immigrants living in Quebec who are not Canadian citizens are unable to change their name and “sex designation” on their official documentation. Quebec is the only province in Canada where a person is required to be a Canadian citizen in order to legally change their name and “sex designation”. When McGill makes it impossible to change your name on official transcripts and diplomas without legal documentation, they make it very difficult for trans students to be recognized for who they are, and they make it impossible for trans students who are immigrants to Quebec to be recognized for who they are.

This needs to change. There is no reason why McGill cannot change its policy and practices, as other universities like McMaster do not require legal documentation from trans students in order to change official university documents. Students should support their trans peers who are attempting to change their name at McGill by pressing their student representatives to bring forward a motion urging McGill to improve the name-changing process. We demand that McGill create a task force to investigate the concrete ways in which changing your name on official documents can be done without need of legal documentation.