a school is ditching traditional uniforms in support of transgender students

All students at Brighton College in East Sussex now have the option of wearing a skirt, blouse, shirt or pants. But Aussie schools don't show signs of following their lead.

by Wendy Syfret
22 January 2016, 1:17am

Image via Flickr

For transgender teenagers, seemingly mundane elements of high school can be confronting challenges to their identity and sense of self. Before they even make it inside the building—where they may have to deal with bullying, substandard sex-education, and gendered bathroom politics—they already face discrimination. That's because in most schools, strict uniform policies force trans student to dress in a gendered way that doesn't reflect who they are.

Brighton College in East Sussex has decided to abandon the idea of boys and girls uniforms all together. From now, their 1,000 students—aged between 11 and 18—will all have the option of wearing a skirt, blouse, shirt or pants. The school has said the choice was in response to "a changing society which recognises that some children have gender dysphoria and do not wish to lose their emotional gender identities at school".

Brighton College's former uniform policies had been in place for over 170 years, but head teacher Richard Cairns explained to The Mirror this was redundant when considering the distress it could cause students: "I hate the idea of anyone being in my school who is miserable because they're being asked to dress in a way they are uncomfortable with."

In 2013, the school was also in the news when Will Emery was elected as the first openly gay head boy at a British public school. The then 17-year-old was voted in by staff and students.

It is worth noting that Brighton College fees are £11,780 (A$24,330) per year. So at this stage, being yourself at school in the UK is still a pretty expensive privilege. Although, it's a privilege that barely exists in Australia at all.

Despite increased media coverage over recent years, locally the question of gendered uniforms is still largely unexplored. When journalist Henrietta Cook looked into the experience of Aussie trans kids for The Age last year, she found their daily school lives were consistently traumatic. One teen who was forced to wear a skirt, despite identifying as male, told her, "When I got home I would cry, and in the morning, when I had to put on that skirt, I would cry,"

But some groups and individuals have been active in remedying this breakdown. A few years ago gender diverse youth advocacy organisation Ygender launched Gender is Not Uniform—a campaign to draw attention to issues surrounding transphobia in schools. Additionally, some individual schools like King David in Melbourne have a gender neutral uniform option, but it's still very much up to the school to decide what, if any, course they take.

If you want to get involved with making your school more LGBTQ friendly, you can print out Gender is Not Uniform posters here and make your voice heard. 


Words Wendy Syfret
Image via Flickr