There are plenty of schools that have banned kids from wearing certain kinds of clothing—everything from short skirts to baseball hats and even pajama pants—but one Virginia school district is considering taking things to the next level. The Suffolk school board has proposed banning children from "cross-gender dressing," and, as with many misguided efforts, they're saying it's meant to protect the affected children, not punish them.
The new rule would prohibit children in the district from wearing clothing "not in keeping with a student's gender" and that "causes a disruption and/or distracts others from the education process or poses a health or safety concern." Hmm, good luck figuring out what kind of clothes exactly are in keeping with a certain gender. As James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, pointed out, "If a girl comes to school wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, is that considered cross-gender dressing?" And what about a boy in a pink shirt? Where do you draw the line?
But, of course, the bigger problem is that the district seems confused about what exactly "cross-gender dressing" is. Here's Parrish again: "They're calling it cross-dressing, but if that individual was wearing clothes that reflect their gender identity, that's not cross-dressing, that's appropriate gender dressing." Maybe the school board members should have educated themselves a little on the issues before pursuing it publicly.
The idea of a ban was raised after some male students were dressing like girls at one of the district's high schools and other students complained. It's not clear whether these boys were even being bullied, but the board members maintain that the measure is meant to protect kids from the kinds of harassment that have lead to killings and suicides in other places around the country.
Of course, those situations are awful, and it's perfectly reasonable to want to protect your children from such odious behavior, but the answer is hardly to punish potential targets of bullying by trying to make them act like someone they're not. And just because a kid who's different is wearing the same clothes as everyone else doesn't mean he or she still isn't going to be the target of cruelty. If your true aim is to protect kids from violence, wouldn't it be more sensible to go after the bullies themselves and/or put in place anti-harassment policies?
Suffolk's school board attorney Wendell Waller says it's not as bad as it sounds, "It is not a straight prohibition of anything, unless it ... forms a disruption of the education process." OK, well, who decides what constitutes a disruption? There's certainly plenty of room in there for discrimination, and that is exactly what the ACLU is contending. They're already preparing to challenge the ban on the grounds that it's "unconstitutionally vague and sexually discriminatory" should it be passed during the board's vote in March. Well, thank goodness someone's willing to step in to protect the rights of transgender kids in Suffolk. Now if they could just have ACLU lawyers on the playground to protect them from their fellow students—and any teachers who might not approve of their chosen outfit.
Virginia school district ponders banning cross-gender dress [Chicago Tribune]
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