Brighton College uniform code for transgender pupils

Sometimes, I get to read about something that I consider as significant and then have to weigh the pros and cons of writing about what it is I have picked up. The “pro” may be the story is significant and people need to be alerted to what is going on. The “con” may be that I might put my foot in it especially if were to pontificate over a subject I don’t know enough about. While that is true in this case, the pro argument outweighs the con!

The story I had in mind was posted yesterday on the BBC News website under the title “Brighton College scraps uniform code for transgender pupils”. The story begins: “Independent school Brighton College has scrapped its traditional uniform rules to accommodate transgender pupils. The school is introducing a “trouser uniform” and a “skirt uniform” that can be worn by pupils up to age 16, regardless of their biological gender”. It does not appear to have been widely reported and I could find no commentary (supportive or otherwise). I feel a bit out on a limb, for while I have in recent years gathered a fair understanding of gay and lesbian issues, the same cannot be said for transgender.

In trying to find out more about Brighton College, it appears to be a long established and highly regarded educational establishment and, while it has a strong commitment to equality and diversity, it does not seem to be “way out” regarding its ethos, which is what I might have expected. The report quotes the Head, Richard Cairns, who said “the change to its 170-year-old code followed requests from a small number of families. It ties in with my strong personal belief that youngsters should be respected for who they are … 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. My only interest as headmaster is their welfare and happiness.” He added whereas most schools gave transgender pupils “personal leeway with uniform” he wanted to “abolish the notion of boys’ and girls’ schools altogether“.

One of the biggest changes in my lifetime has been how society views gender. When I was growing up, there appeared to a strong consensus on male and female roles and what is expected in terms of sexual orientation (pertinent in the gay and lesbian debate) and sexual identity (pertinent in the transgender debate). That has changed beyond nigh all recognition, with society mainly recognizing the equality of the sexes in the workplace etc. and supporting the notion that people could be sexually attracted to members of their own sex. More recently, there has been a growing awareness that people born male or female may identify with the other gender and may wish to change accordingly. Stories such as that of Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner, the gold medal winning, Olympic decathlete have been well publicized. Just as we have become accustomed to people close to us having same sex attraction, we are coming more aware of those we know identifying as transgender.

Before I react to the Brighton College story, I should state my reluctance to do so, having not thought through transgender issues in the same way I have gay issues and that I would want to support those students who may identify as transgender. However, I am not convinced that while the school had some laudable intentions behind its decision, I fear that what it did decide was not right. I also worry because it sets out a precedence and other schools may feel pressurized to do something similar. I also see what is taking place and the thinking behind it to be part of a general trend to do away with gender identity altogether, and is part of the ongoing culture war that I have reflected on in earlier blogs. My beliefs on these as with many matters are based on my understanding of the Bible, even going back to the very first chapter: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” Genesis 1:27. I share these thoughts here knowing there will be more developments when it comes to how to deal with transgender people, and also conflicting views.

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