Skirt or Pants? Students in Puerto Rico Can Now Wear Either

The recent uniform policy change aims to promote LGBT acceptance in the U.S. territory’s public school system.

(Photo: Tom Merton/Getty Images)

Oct 15, 2015· 1 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

The plaid skirts and starched shirts of school uniforms have long been cursed by students who would rather wear cool jeans to school, but now some kids in Puerto Rico will have a little more freedom when getting dressed.

For the first time, students in the U.S. territory’s uniform-enforced public schools are free to wear pants or skirts to class regardless of their assigned gender, The Associated Press reports.

The move is a part of a new regulation that not only gives girls the right to wear pants to school, and vice versa for boys who wish to wear skirts, but also gives trans students the ability to express their chosen gender identity without breaking the traditional dress code policy.

“No student can be sanctioned for not opting to wear a particular piece of clothing...that he or she does not feel comfortable with,” Education Secretary Rafael Román Meléndez told the AP.

Puerto Rico has made significant changes in the past few months to become more inclusive of gay, lesbian, and transgender people. In mid-July, the socially conservative island legalized same-sex marriage after overturning a ban on it. Additionally, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla has issued a number of recent executive orders that benefit LGBT communities, one of which allows transgender citizens to change the gender on their driver’s license.

Yet, many Puerto Ricans, including educators affected by the policy, still discriminate against those who identify as LGBT. Christina Torres, a high school director in the city of Ponce, told the AP that two years ago she was in a picture with a male student who wore female clothes to his graduation, and it became the subject of complaints from other teachers. The student accepted an award that day for overcoming difficult circumstances, namely bullying.

“Changing people’s mentality from one day to another will be hard,” Torres told the AP. “The most incredible thing is that young people can accept this with an open mind, but it’s the adults who discriminate.”

Puerto Rico isn’t the only place where the education system is stepping up to implement gender-neutral uniforms. In early June, Bangkok University in Thailand introduced a similar change in dress code that gives all students the option of wearing either a skirt or a pants combo to school. Several institutions in the U.S. have added similar LGBT-friendly policies.

Even with the recent push to provide safer spaces for LGBT students, hateful backlash from peers can take a toll on kids beyond the school halls. In March, North Carolina’s first transgender prom king, Blake Brockington, took his life.

LGBT teens are twice as likely as their peers to kill themselves, but the risk drops significantly when kids are in a positive school environment where they aren’t teased.