Prime Minister responds to call for gender-neutral uniforms by labelling them ‘transgender’
New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English has responded to a nationwide recommendation for gender-neutral uniforms by calling them “transgender uniforms.”
The Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA), which represents all secondary school teachers, made the recommendation today, along with advising in favour of gender-neutral toilets and changing rooms.
“Allowing all students to choose from a range of shorts, trousers, skirts of different lengths and styles…would be progressive in valuing diversity of gender expression,” the guidelines stated.
“To have the greatest effect it is important that access to specific uniform items is not limited on the basis of biological sex or perceived gender identity.”
English, who took office last year as leader of the centre-right National Party, was asked about the issue at a press conference today.
Smiling, he said: “The government will not be focusing on transgender uniforms; it sounds like there are plenty of other people who are experts on it to sort that out,” according to New Zealand media outlet Newshub.
A reporter for the outlet then pointed out that the uniform recommendation was about gender-neutral, not transgender uniforms.
To this, the prime minister replied: “It all depends what you mean by gender-neutral.
“Some girls’ schools have girls wearing shorts – I don’t know if that’s gender-neutral or just girls wearing shorts.”
The prime minister also told reporters: “I think a lot of parents just want uniforms that are practical, that wash easily and are easy to find at seven o’clock on Monday morning.
“I’m sure the PPTA don’t mean that every household should go out and buy new uniforms at great expense to themselves to make some point that the PPTA are happy with.”
PPTA spokesperson Shawn Cooper said English’s answers were “disappointing,” and criticised the prime minister’s “lack of understanding” on the subject.
He told Newshub: “There are young people out there who would be disappointed in the Prime Minister’s confusion of the issues.
“It’s probably disappointing that he wasn’t able to reflect the concerns students are feeling out there, about uniforms and toilet facilities that might not meet their needs.”
Cooper added: “One of the things it exposed is he had an apparent lack of understanding about what the issues were and the issues students are facing.”
He rejected the idea that new uniforms could hit parents’ wallets, explaining that the proposal was simply “about students being given a choice about what to wear.”
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The spokesman added that there was a similar misunderstanding concerning gender-neutral toilets and changing rooms, which he said would cost next to nothing to implement.
“It’s about creating proper signage; schools would be able to print appropriate signs off their computers for a couple of dollars,” he said.
Last year, English performed a u-turn on same-sex marriage, having previously voted against both civil partnerships and marriages for same-sex couples.
“I’d probably vote differently now on the gay marriage issue, I don’t think that gay marriage is a threat to anyone else’s marriage,” he said.
“Just seeing the impact it’s had for couples and the fact that it doesn’t actually erode marriage. In some ways it’s an affirmation of the concept.”
Same-sex marriage has been legal in New Zealand since 2013.