This U.K. School Is Axing Gendered Uniforms

Photo: Courtesy of Skye Brackpool/Brighton College.
A British boarding school has decided to do away with rules concerning its mandatory uniforms, allowing students to attire themselves according to gender identity, versus gender assigned at birth. Traditionally, Brighton College has required girls to wear a skirt and bolero jacket, and boys to wear trousers, a blazer, and a tie. The private school, which has had the same dress code throughout its 170-year history, is recognizing that uniform regulations don't need to — and shouldn't — reinforce the gender binary.

The policy change was brought about by Brighton College's headmaster, Richard Cairns, and is designed to make trans students or students experiencing gender dysphoria feel more comfortable, according to BBC. "If some boys and girls are happier identifying with a different gender from that in which they were born, then my job is to make sure that we accommodate that," Cairns told the publication.
The new rules are progressive, and bound to make life better for students who feel they don't fit into the fixed categories of male and female, or do not feel that they are cisgendered. Less progressive, however, were Cairns' recent comments that girls who attend single-sex schools are at a disadvantage when dealing with men. Is it a coincidence, or just a PR stunt, that the same school has hit the headlines once again, this time for more positive attitudes about gender?

Optimistically, we're hoping the school's intentions behind changing its dress code are genuine. And the results, thus far, seem positive: Trans activist and professional soccer player Sophie Cook penned a piece in The Telegraph yesterday about speaking at the school right after the uniform policy change was announced: "you wouldn’t know anything had changed for [Brighton College's students] since the introduction of their new rule," Cook wrote. "There has been no demise of civilization as we knew it, as some commentators suggested would happen with the acceptance of different sexualities and gender labels. Instead, new rules are being made — ones that are fit for a new, educated, open, and compassionate generation."

Elsewhere in the U.K., universities in Lancaster and Northampton recently introduced the idea of gender-neutral bathrooms following a campaign from students, and last year LGBT campaigner Elly Barnes urged all schools to introduce gender-neutral uniforms.

In October, Puerto Rico's public school system, which has a uniformed dress code, signed a regulation to allow students to wear either pants or skirts based on their gender identities, rather than being assigned one or the other. The policy shift was particularly notable because of the U.S. commonwealth's socially conservative cultural climate (including its views about the LGBT community).

Finally, it seems, the right conversations are being had about how to make LGBT students feel more welcome. Hopefully Brighton College's move will set the precedent for other schools, in the U.K. and far beyond, to follow suit.

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