Gender option on form made to be more inclusive

Graphic by Fan Hsieh
Graphic by Fan Hsieh

This coming fall will be the last cohort of high school students forced to define themselves using a binary gender system while applying for university within the province of Ontario.

The fall 2017 Ontario University Application Centre form, through which students must submit applications to any of the province’s 20 institutions, will feature “another gender identity” as an option under the current male and female options, as well as a move to demarcate gender as an optional question. The need for a change on the provincial forms was launched by Ray Darling, registrar at the University of Waterloo, after having had the issue of the restricting question come to his attention.

“It was a student who came to the front desk at the Registrars’ Office, at the University of Waterloo, who pointed out to us the problem that we have at the application stage of requiring a student to identify as male or female,” said Darling. “And this particular student did not identify as either.”

Darling’s request began last November at the Ontario University Council on Admissions, where he presented his concerns, of which the council agreed required amending. Darling then formed a working group, of which Wilfrid Laurier University’s own Glennice Burns, manager of 101 Recruitment and Admissions, was a part of.

This group was responsible for drafting the white paper and the motions which was then presented to the council’s April meeting, at which the changes were unanimously approved by all Ontario universities.

Darling hopes that this change will signal to students outside the gender binary that Ontario’s institutions are a place they can belong.

“I hope that it’s going to present a more welcoming environment for them, to give them the confidence to self-identify,” said Darling. “Recognize that universities are open and here to support them.”

The importance of this support at the very beginning of a student’s post-secondary career is extremely important, said Michael Woodford, associate professor in Laurier’s faculty of social work with a research history focusing on LGBTQ youth.

“If you identify outside that gender binary and you’re filling out [the current form], the message from day one is “I don’t belong.” I don’t identify as male, I don’t identify as female, therefore, I don’t belong,” said Woodford.

“By adding a third option, then people can say, wow, at least there’s an acknowledgement that there are people outside the male/female binary in these spaces.”

He predicted, that this is not the end of the story and that universities both inside Ontario and beyond must continue to work to become more supportive spaces for students outside the gender binary in all aspects of campus life, from forms to washrooms and even residence housing policies.

“This is definitely just a starting point, because when we think about how cisgenderism and maintenance of genderism in terms of that gender binary happens, it can’t be just that form,” said Woodford.

“So we need to say this is a great beginning place, but where do we go next?”

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