Australian school criticized for allowing cross-dressing

Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Wikimedia

CANBERRA, Australia — An Australian high school has been criticized for allowing students to wear boy or girl uniforms regardless of gender.

The Newtown High School of Performing Arts in inner Sydney changed its uniform policy last week to allow all students to “wear any part of the available uniform options,” the New South Wales state education department said in a statement Wednesday.

Several parents and students hailed the change as a boon for transgender students, who previously needed parental approval and a psychologist’s report to gain the school’s permission to cross-dress.

The change was condemned as radical by the Australian Christian Lobby, an influential conservative advocacy group.

“It’s a deeper problem than just boys choosing to wear a girl’s skirt to school,” ACL spokesman Wendy Francis said. “What they’re trying to do in schools is make boys’ and girls’ gender disappear.”

A number of federal government lawmakers this week backed the ACL’s call to remove federal funding from a national program aimed at preventing bullying in schools of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

Almost 500 schools have signed up to the Safe Schools Coalition Australia, which runs the program that also advocates that schools allow students to cross-dress. It is not known how many schools adopted that uniform policy, but the education department said Newtown High was not the only one in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state. Newtown High declined to comment.

Maya Saric, who has two children aged 15 and 13 at Newtown High, described the change as progressive and responsive to students’ needs.

“All the parents I mentioned it to didn’t bat an eyelid and thought it was perfectly reasonable,” Saric said.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull bent to pressure from government lawmakers by agreeing Tuesday to review the continuation of 8 million Australian dollars ($5.7 million) in federal funding for the Safe Schools program, which teaches students about gay and lesbian issues.

Turnbull was criticized by opposition lawmakers and the national teachers’ union for launching the review.

Safe Schools Coalition Australia said it welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate to the federal government the positive impact of its program.

The group’s website says it is a national coalition of organizations and schools working to create safe school environments for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.

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