High school senior petitions lawmakers to pass bill to allow students to choose name on their diploma
A South Plainfield high school student wants to make sure that all students in the state can have a name on their diploma based on their gender identity.
Reo Payne wrote an emotional petition to lawmakers to pass state bill A5918, which was introduced in June 2021. The name Reo is a play on the Spanish word río, which means river. He says he can relate to water as a person that is gender fluid. Payne says he does use he/him pronouns.
Reo says he has been using this name for about two years.
“December 2020. It was Christmas break, and it was pretty deep into lockdown,” he says.
In 2021 he stopped using his birth name and returned to school as Reo. He says it is a gender-neutral name that matches his identity.
There were initially some issues confirming which name he would be able to use for his high school diploma this June. But his principal then gave him some good news.
“He found out that at our school we can print whatever we wanted as long as it matches our school profile,” Reo says.
But he wants other students to be afforded the same opportunity.
“There are lots of other kids and teens and people my age who have the same thought as me that can’t do that,” Reo says.
This is why last week he sent an emotional petition to Gov. Phil Murphy, Rep. Frank Pallone and the United States House of Representatives to pass bill A5918.
Reo says it is a bill “permitting graduating students of public and non-public schools the right to have their chosen or preferred name on their diploma.”
“It was a really personal letter. It was coming forward with everything I dealt with,” Reo says.
Reo says he has received support from his parents, friends and high school.
A spokesperson for the South Plainfield School District wrote in a statement, "As a district, we are reflective and responsive to our students' needs. We welcome any legislation that validates our students' identity. However, until such a change is made, the district will continue to work within the confines of the law as it stands today.”
Reo says he has a message for lawmakers.
"Whatever they have in the power to do to make sure it moves forward, I beg of them to work on it. Because I have so many friends and family that have struggled the way I have and I want them to be free,” he says.
News 12 reached out to Pallone’s office for comment but has not yet heard back.