WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The School District of Palm Beach County is taking strides to be more LGBTQ+ friendly.
Starting with the 2022-2023 school year, on their registration, students will be able to fill out what preferred name they'd like to go by.
"As we talk about affirming in our mission statement, we know that many of our students prefer to be called another name, a nickname, another name," said Keith Oswald, Chief of Equity and Wellness with the School District of Palm Beach County.
It's an inclusive milestone as the chosen name will reflect on the school's roster.
"I think what was announced today in terms of preferred names will have the opportunity to save lives," said Lacy Larson the parent of an LGBTQ+ student. "It will give credibility to those kids who live every day in fear of being outed, who live everyday sort of feeling uncomfortable with the opportunity to be dead named or any other situation within the spectrum of discomfort for those kids, this will make that difference."
This comes after the Palm Beach County school superintendent met with students at the Compass Center in January as they shared their hurdles being LGBTQ+ students.
"If we don't speak up for our kids, they've shown us that they'll speak up for themselves, and then it's our role to listen to them and do what we can as grown-ups," said Larson.
"I was very excited and maybe teared up a little bit because we have so many kids who have worked so hard to get to a place where they are comfortable with their chosen name or preferred name," said Rex Barnes, the Youth and Family Services Coordinator with Compass Community Center.
Other issues addressed by students were the need for gender-neutral bathrooms and more gay-straight alliance clubs.
"If you've been part of this fight for years, you know the only gender-neutral bathroom these kids have had is the nurses' bathroom or kids who are just holding it until they completely go home, which we all should know is not healthy and can cause lots of harm," said Barnes. "So the fact they have new schools where they've included gender-neutral bathrooms and that they're actively trying to change certain bathrooms in the existing schools to be more inclusive and have specific gender-neutral bathrooms is a momentous occasion in Palm Beach County."
Advocates hope the district continues to make moves in effort of being more inclusive.
"We're not going to make such monumental drastic changes all at once, and what we need to do is we need to start and continue to show these students that they mean something, that their voices were heard and if those changes come in waves or baby steps, so be it," said Larson.
With all the new legislation out of Tallahassee, the district will be handing out updated handbooks and training teachers to comply with new laws.
"I have more faith in our school district to protect these kids than I probably do in our government right now and that is something that we need to see and these kids need to see that they have a safe environment that they can go to so they can learn," said Barnes.