This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
Newtown High School of the Performing Arts in Sydney, Australia, has updated its policy on uniforms to make life easier for trans, gender queer, and non-binary pupils, following a push from the school's students.
From now on, students will be free to use whatever uniform or bathroom matches their gender identity. They could already do both of those things before the policy was officially changed, but they're now saved the trouble of seeking formal permission from administration, which Newtown student Jo Dwyer called a "long and difficult process" in an interview with the Age.
Speaking to VICE, the New South Wales Department of Education explained that the uniform itself hasn't changed. It's simply been made genderless. "Students can wear any part of the available uniform options," a spokesperson told us. Similarly, Newton's bathroom policy hasn't formally changed from that already in place across NSW. It's just more explicit. "Usually, students should not be required to use the toilets and change rooms used by persons of the sex they were assigned at birth if they identify as a different gender," the spokesperson said. Newtown has just taken the gray area out of the state's policy, by making it clear students are completely free to use the bathroom of their choice.
The move makes sense coming from Newtown, given it's one of the most progressive schools in the country. You might remember when its students were sent to meet then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and completely shredded him in a Q & A session—"Not saying that I don't trust you, just wondering why a man is the minister for women?"
It's not the first school to change its uniform policy to accommodate trans and non-binary students—some British schools began doing so last year—but it's the first in Australia, and as a result, it has become the target for ire from Christian lobbyists. "People are wondering if this is where rainbow ideology and rainbow politics is taking us," Australian Christian Lobby spokesperson Wendy Francis told VICE. "These gender theory ideas go way beyond anti-bullying to almost proselytizing."
Earlier this year, the lobby came out in opposition to the Safe School program, which aims to aide young LGTB students and educate their peers. Francis even claimed the program promotes "queer sex and cross-dressing."
Not that the NSW Department of Education is particularly bothered by these sorts of opinions. When VICE asked the department to comment, a spokesperson said that as a matter of course it doesn't "respond to third parties" and stressed "we do not comment on that organization."
It's also quite unlikely that Newtown will be the only school bringing in genderless uniforms. Last year, the Victorian Youth Parliament created a bill to present to the Victorian government demanding school uniforms be made gender neutral across the state. The Safe School program, which 495 institutions currently participate in, advocates for the same policy. Although given Newtown's change came from pupils pushing for something they cared about, it might not take legislation to implement—just students who give a shit.
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