Local Government Rules Public School Students Can Choose Pants Or Skirts — No Matter Their Gender

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Finally, some good news about school uniform rules, for a change of pace. Puerto Rico's department of education recently signed a new regulation that allows students to wear either pants or skirts, according to their gender identity as opposed to the gender they were assigned at birth. Female students typically must wear skirts as part of the existing dress code, and male students have to wear pants. The policy change is intended to (very positively) affect the lives of LGBT students.

The new uniform ruling, the Carta Circular 16-2015-2016 — which can be found in its entirety (untranslated from Spanish) at NotiUno and has the support of Gov. Alejandro García Padilla — was announced on Monday in San Juan at a press conference, after months of contentious work to put it into effect. "No student can be sanctioned for not opting to wear a particular piece of clothing…that he or she does not feel comfortable with," Puerto Rico's secretary of education, Rafael Román, told reporters, according to the Associated Press.

As part of the policy, teachers cannot discipline students based on whether they decide to don pants or skirts to school. It also outlines the benefits of having a school uniform, as well as general directives of what the uniform should look like and what the next steps are for the educational council to determine a new dress code.

While the policy shift might seem fairly minor, it's pretty significant given Puerto Rico's socially conservative culture, including attitudes toward the LGBT community. According to the Pew Research Center's "Religion in Latin America" study released in November 2014, 55% of Puerto Ricans polled oppose marriage equality. (By contrast, 39% of Americans nationally oppose same-sex marriage, per a separate Pew Research Center study earlier this year.)

Allowing students to have some degree of autonomy about getting dressed for class — namely, making sure their outfits align with gender and sexual identity — has gotten some really positive feedback all over Twitter, as well as the support of local organizations that include the Instituto de Género y Educación Avanzada (Igea). But there are detractors to this progressive bit of change, such as Alerta Puerto Rico, a family-values-focused organization. On the group's Facebook page, the organization criticized the new regulation as being part of an "agenda to indoctrinate our children and to reach the next generation with the ideology of gender perspective…"

This new decree is also opening up conversations regarding what policies should be enacted next to improve the experience of LGBT students in Puerto Rico. Cristina Torres, director of a high school in the city of Ponce, told local newspaper El Nuevo Día that she sees bathrooms as an area for improvement. Roughly translated, Torres said, "There's a very delicate situation with the use of bathrooms. They (the boys who identify as girls) don't want to use the men's bathroom. It lends itself to bullying from heterosexual boys. The girls (who identify as boys, on the other hand) don't ask to use the boys' bathroom."

There's still plenty of room to grow, but this progressive uniform policy represents a big step forward for the LGBT community in Puerto Rico.

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