Students applying to get their senior school certificate in a state of Australia can now nominate their gender as male, female, or “X”, under changes introduced this year.
The move has been praised by LGBTI advocates, who raised the issue with the Victorian education department after trans or gender diverse students complained of being misgendered by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) when completing their year 11 and 12 studies.
The change affects the VCAA personal details form, filled out by every student completing a Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), Victorian Education and Training (VET) or Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) course.
“This is entirely a student choice and recognises that individuals may identify and be recognised within the community as a gender other than the sex they were assigned at birth or during infancy, or as a gender that is not exclusively male or female,” the notice said.
Victoria is the second state to introduce a third gender option. In Western Australia, students can nominate their gender as male, female, or NS, for “not specified”.
The change is in line with federal guidelines for government records, which specify that “X” should be an option in any personal records requiring sex or gender information.
YGender president San Lilit, one of the advocates who raised the issue with the Victorian education department last year, said it was a “huge step”.
Lilit said they had also heard reports of schools refusing to recognise non-binary or diverse gender identities because VCE enrolment remained binary.
Ideally, they said, the form would be updated to include an option for students to specify their gender and an option to not disclose gender. Details on the form are used in correspondence with students and schools, and the department’s own data collection.
Data on “gender x” students will not be included in public reports unless the numbers reach a statistically significant level that does not risk identifying individual students, the VCAA said.
Micah Scott, chief executive of LGBTI youth organisation Minus18, said the psychological impact of being misgendered, or referred to by the incorrect pronoun, could be profound.
“Receiving that sort of correspondence from the department – and you receive quite a bit of it through year 12 – there is an impact, there is a day to day impact of what that pronoun or what that gender identifier has on a young person,” Scott said.
“The inclusion of a gender neutral option is really bringing the department into line with the expectations of students and schools. This is something that schools have been asking for for a while now.”
It’s a small but significant change, said the Youth Affairs Council Victoria chief executive, Georgie Ferrari. She dismissed comments by the Australian Christian Lobby and the Victorian Liberal MPs, who suggested it both posed a safety issue and was out of line with community expectations.
“I just reject that idea that it’s a safety issue,” she said. “How does putting on a form that young people identify as either trans or gender diverse impact safety in any way?”
Ferrari said the department would ideally allow students to describe their gender identity but she understood why authorities had restricted it to three gender options.
“I don’t know how many data fields the Victorian education department wants to open up,” she said.
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