Depending on what kind of high school you attended and what part of the country you grew up in, you’re probably well aware of school dress codes: no miniskirts, no baseball hats, no gang colors, etc. But some kids who are challenging their dress code aren’t just trying to flash a skimpy thong to get the QB’s attention: they’re trying to express their opposite-sex gender identity. Now, increasingly, high school administrators have to navigate tricky situations and questions, such as What do we do when Bobby comes to school wearing a dress, high-heeled boots and eyeliner?Some students may just want to “rebel” via their clothes for attention, but I’d wager that’s a really small minority. The majority of gender-bending students, judging by the ones that The New York Times mentioned (in “Can A Boy Wear A Skirt To School,” which ran on Nov. 6), are dressing to express their sexual orientation: a 17-year-old Mississippi girl who wanted to wear a tuxedo in her yearbook photo, a boy in Columbus, Ohio, who wears tapered shirts and lip gloss, etc.
Frankly, school rules that don’t let gay kids dress the way they want to dress are outright discriminatory. It’s pretty ridiculous that school principals could see the gender aspect of their dress code as anything but enabling homophobia. Of course, schools are concerned with students’ safety and some might argue a ban on cross-dressing protects the gay kids from teasing and/or violence. You may remember, for example, the February 2008 death of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old from Oxnard, California, who liked to wear makeup and high-heeled boots and was killed in a hate crime by one of his classmates.
But a not entirely rational fear for student safety shouldn’t be an excuse to take away a student’s right to express himself. Rules should force the bigots to change their behavior, instead of limiting the lives of people who are doing nothing wrong. I’m guessing if Johnny’s judgment told him he’d get the crap beat out of him for wearing eyeliner to school, he wouldn’t be so brave as to do it in the first place.
Let the boys wear eye makeup and fishnets! Let the girls wear ties and tuxedoes! It might be one of the most important lessons the students ever learn. [New York Times]