The University of Waterloo has led an Ontario-wide change that will give prospective students, who do not identify as either male or female, the option to check “another gender identity” on common application forms.

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The change, that will come into effect for students applying for the fall of 2017, is happening as transgender Canadians cheer the introduction this week of legislation that would make it against the law to discriminate on the basis of gender identity.

“This is an important first step that allows universities to start identifying, connecting and building bridges with transgender students,” says Jeremy Steffler, a member of the University of Waterloo’s Working Group on Sexual and Gender Diversity, which is part of the Provost’s Advisory Committee for Equity. “Having taken this critical step to increase the visibility of diverse gender identities in our campus communities, we can continue to engage with our transgender students on how best to support them.”

The gender identificiation options for students were updated because requiring transgender applicants to identify simply as  either male or female is not equitable, says Waterloo Registrar Ray Darling, who chaired the provincial working group that ushered in the change.

Darling reached out to Ontario universities last fall after a transgender student approached the Registrar’s Office concerned about the use of only binary gender options on application forms. “We certainly agreed with the student that it was a problem,” said Darling. “It’s 2016, and we need to acknowledge that students should be valued for who they are.”

In 2012, gender identity and gender expression related protection was added to the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC.) It states: “Trans people should be recognized and treated as the gender they live in, whether or not they have undergone surgery, or their identity documents are up to date.”

Joyce Tsui, a representative from the Federation of Students Glow Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity, said the OUAC change is a step in the right direction. Tsui hopes that additional information about transgender students will increase services and supports for non-binary students across Ontario. Glow provides resources and support for transgender students on campus.

Darling pointed out that universities are currently mandated to collect gender information for a number of government agencies, gender specific entrance scholarships, and student housing assignments.

He said application forms will be made even more inclusive in the fall of 2018, with a free form text field under “another gender identity.”