Graduation robes going gender-neutral at Montgomery County schools

When students at James Hubert Blake High School graduate Tuesday morning, they will not only end their high school years, but they will also have helped lead to an end of a longstanding tradition.

After years of having girls and boys wearing different graduation robes, the practice will come to an end and it is all grown out of students own efforts to make schools more gender neutral.

High school seniors Julian and Chloe Martin-Poteet are twins. But on graduation day, they will look very different.

"I'll be wearing white and my brother will be wearing blue," said Chloe.

For as long as anyone remembers, different gendered graduates at Blake High School have worn different colored robes. That is until some students started asking a question.

"Why were we still doing this?" said Julian. "There is no reason to separate people by genders anymore."

Julian and Chloe are members of Allies for Equality, a group which tries to unifying gay and straight students.

But the graduation robes? The colors divided them into genders on a day when they should walk as one.

That started a movement for graduating seniors to make female, male and all gender identities wear the exact same robe.

But tackling tough issues is nothing new for students at Blake High School because they created Allies for Equality 15 years ago.

Not everyone was on board with the change and some students petitioned against it. But in the end, the teachers say they are proud of how students talked about it rather than arguing about it.

"I looked at them and said, ‘I'm so proud of you guys because regardless of how this comes out, you've started a conversation,'" said Mary Wagner, a teacher at the school.

This year, different colored robes for males and females will get one last walk down the aisle. Starting in 2016, all students will wear blue.

"We've gotten to a place in our society where it means something and it matters, so it's a teachable moment," said principal Christopher Berry.

While graduation means the Poteet twins are leaving Blake High School, they say they are proud to have helped leave behind a legacy in equality.

Other Montgomery County high schools that will no longer use separate colors for males and females include Damascus, Sherwood and Walter Johnson. At least five other schools in the county will make the change next year.

Information from The Associated Press used in this report.

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