When Paul D. Schreiber High School graduates receive their diplomas later this month, they all will wear blue gowns and white stoles.
The ceremonial dress for the Class of 2016 will be the same for young men and young women, with the Port Washington school taking a gender-neutral approach in the interest of equality for transgender grads, who won’t have to choose between blue gowns for males or white for females, as in past years.
The policy change “that incorporates all of the colors” was made official last month, district spokeswoman Deirdre Gilligan said Monday. The school’s graduation ceremony is scheduled for June 23.
Port Washington schools Superintendent Kathleen A. Mooney, in a statement Tuesday, said the action is consistent with the district’s mission to reflect “themes of equity and excellence into all areas of instruction and curriculum” while responding to “requests and input from the student body” on the matter.
“However, it goes well beyond the transgender issue,” Mooney wrote. “As a progressive school district we believe that the time has come to no longer separate students by gender and to demonstrate a more inclusive practice at graduation. This is a supportive step in preparing our students for the global environment, which they will be joining as young adults, and a unifying action to show our respect for their individual needs.”
While Schreiber appears to be among the first high schools on Long Island to make such a change official, it joins a national trend of policy revisions concerning the rights of transgender people or those questioning their sexual identity.
The public policy clash has been volatile in North Carolina, where resistance to transgender people using bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex motivated officials with the U.S. Department of Justice to file a civil rights lawsuit last month.
Caps and gowns have started factoring in the discussion over the past two years, as school systems in different states responded to advocacy efforts for inclusiveness.
It was not clear how many other districts on the Island are embracing the one-gown trend. News 12 Long Island reported Monday evening that a similar change is occurring at Island Trees High School in Levittown, part of the Island Trees Union Free School District. Officials there did not return Newsday’s calls for comment.
“Anything that stops basic discrimination is a positive step,” said Juli Grey-Owens, an advocate who is executive director of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition in Huntington Station.
Schools aren’t discriminating “on purpose” when they assign colors by gender, she said, “but it’s a situation where a transgender person may be forced to wear the wrong color or would just have to out themselves” in front of a crowd.
Such changes are consistent with New York’s Dignity for All Students Act, Grey-Owens said. The education law, which went into effect in 2012, expanded requirements for tolerance and respect to include “sexual orientations, gender identity and sexes” among groups protected from discrimination and harassment.
The change at Schreiber “was a big topic of discussion” on social media, said Asena Ulug, valedictorian of the class that will first wear the new blended colors.
Some young women thought the white gowns would have been a better match for the dresses they hoped to wear, she said.
Ultimately, the push for equality won the day.
“I am totally fine with it, and I think it should be a trend” in other schools, said Ulug, 17. What color to wear “doesn’t really affect me in a large way . . . but if it makes somebody who doesn’t identify as a certain gender more comfortable, then I would be more willing to make the change.”