In their latest absurd and overreaching attempt to stomp out gender nonconformity, Florida Republicans have found a new tactic: nicknames. If a child in Florida’s Orange County Public Schools system wants to use a name that deviates in any way from their legal name, they must now submit a signed parental permission form.
According to a memo released Monday, the new rule, while transparently targeted at trans kids, applies to all students, including cis students using common nicknames.
“As an example, if the student is named Robert, but likes to be called the nickname Rob, the form must be filled out authorizing teachers and other personnel to call Robert the nickname Rob,” the new guidelines state.
Such are the extremities to which far-right school boards are willing to go to oppress young trans people.
If a cis boy with the legal name Robert can’t be called Rob in school without parental permission, then neither could a trans girl called Roberta. Even if Roberta could obtain parental permission to use her chosen name, Florida law ensures that the school is still free to misgender her.
“Under the recently adopted House Bill 1069, the teacher or other personnel may elect not to utilize the pronoun ‘she/her’ when referring to Roberta,” notes the school board memo. If parents fail to serve Republicans as a disciplining force against gender nonconformity, the GOP passion for parental rights flies out the window.
Orange County is not the first public school system to introduce a guideline around students’ chosen names. In total, however, the school board’s new rules comprise some of the most extreme and comprehensive anti-trans policies of any public institution in the country — the fruits of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s radically reactionary takeover of education policy. Like most astroturfed assaults on trans existence in recent years, the Orange County rules combine a vile mixture of banned and coerced speech; fixations on bathrooms and genitalia; threats of harsh penalties and vigilante enforcement; and profoundly selective invocations of parental rights.
As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern noted on Twitter, these anti-trans rules were introduced during a “SEVERE teacher shortage,” as the Orange County Public School system has been “chronically unable to retain teachers year-to-year.” Facing hundreds of vacancies, the school board nonetheless prioritized new guidelines that would either drive out or repel trans and trans-supportive teachers and staff.
These policies are grimly predictable for a school board infiltrated by the far-right extremist group Moms for Liberty, as Orange County and other Florida districts were last year. When it comes to names and pronouns, however, the new rules go particularly far: Teachers — adult workers — must use pronouns and titles that align with their assigned sex at birth, according to Monday’s memo. The guidance brings the school board’s policy into alignment with a vile Florida law, which was passed in May.
This detail bears repeating, as it crystallizes Republicans’ selective approach to free speech: Teachers are not required to use their trans students’ chosen pronouns, but trans teachers are expressly forbidden from using the pronouns that align with their gender. The policy appears to stand in direct violation of the First Amendment, as well as the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision, which protects LGBTQ+ workers from discrimination.
The fact that the rules for students’ chosen names apply to both cis and trans children may at first appear as merely a cynical ploy to avoid legal challenges, as anti-trans laws have consistently been blocked in federal courts in recent months. No one truly believes a teacher will face disciplinary consequences for calling a cis boy Rob without a form from his parents. Any such rules will be selectively enforced to attack gender nonconformity.
The blanket name change rule is no doubt a legal fig leaf, but it nonetheless reveals that gender conformity requires expansive authoritarian enforcement far beyond the policing of trans and queer communities and individuals.
An education policy committed to trans eliminationism must also insist that all children be held in disciplined stasis.
This is not to relativize the suffering inflicted on trans students through such rules. Enforcing the use of trans kids’ deadnames is a violence; enforcing the use of legal names for cis children doesn’t come close, but it remains a significant denial of autonomy.
To insist on gender conformity requires broad social control; an education policy committed to trans eliminationism must also insist that all children be held in disciplined stasis. That’s a feature of the far-right agenda, not a bug.
Thankfully, hundreds of thousands of students have protested and continue to protest school board meetings, staging walkouts against anti-trans laws and policies, including in Orange County. They will not be readily controlled — they will use each other’s names.