🎓 A bill requires schools to permit a student's preferred name on their diploma

🎓 Groups say the idea stands in the way of residents' and schools' values

🎓 There are concerns the move could present administrative hiccups for schools

Benjamin likes the shorter version of his name. Tanya likes the flow of one last name instead of two. Joseph identifies as Josephine.

These students and others should be able to have their high school or college diploma include their preferred name upon graduation, according to legislation moving through the New Jersey Legislature.

But a number of residents and groups claim the proposed law is dangerous, confusing, and immoral.

"This type of legislation strips our God-given rights and our First Amendment rights," Victoria Jakelsky, director of New Jersey Parental Rights, told the Assembly Higher Education Committee.

Jakelsky said if she were asked to change the name on a diploma or any legal document, from Stephen to Stephanie, for example, her Christian faith wouldn't allow her to do so. Many school workers, she added, would choose to lose their job before making such a switch.

"This is a lie and it's forcing people to do things that they know are wrong," Jakelsky said.

NJ lawmakers advanced the bill

Silhouettes of Diverse International Students Celebrating Graduation
Robert Churchill ThinkStock

Nearly a year after the legislation cleared the Assembly Education Committee, the Assembly Higher Education Committee on Jan. 23 advanced the bill by a vote of 5-2.

Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger, R-Monmouth, who voted against the measure, said it would only create chaos and confusion, administratively.

"If a school wants to do this on their own, that's their prerogative. But to require it, I see a problem," Scharfenberger said.

The bill applies to public and nonpublic schools, as well as colleges and universities, and other institutions that offer academic degrees. Under the measure, students would not need to provide legal documentation in order to change the name that goes on their diploma.

Schools, though, would be able to deny a request if it's believed the preferred name is intended to:

  • misrepresent the person’s identity or misappropriate the identity of another person;
  • avoid a legal obligation;
  • harm the reputation or interests of the school or institution; or
  • be derogatory, obscene, or otherwise inappropriate.

Gregory Quinlan, founder of The Center for Garden State Families, a Christian family advocacy group, said the proposed law violates the ethics and foundation of many New Jersey schools.

"No one is born transgender ... It's a denial of reality," Quinlan told lawmakers.

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-Essex, a sponsor of the measure and head of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, noted to critics that the bill does not apply to someone's transcript, which is the official document that is typically requested after a student has graduated.

"A diploma is a piece of paper that is actually pretty meaningless, except to the person who wants to frame it," Jasey said.

Jasey's bill also requires schools to update a former student's records with a legal name or gender change, provided the former student can present sufficient documentation. A school would be able to charge a fee for the reissuance of any document.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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