School gets 'negative calls' over gender-neutral uniform policy
Girls can wear trousers and boys can wear skirts in pupil-led change
A Co Wicklow primary school says it has had "a few negative phone calls" after it announced a gender-neutral uniform policy to accommodate transgender pupils.
St Brigid's National School in Greystones will now allow all students to wear the uniform in which they feel the most comfortable, meaning boys may wear pinafores and girls can wear trousers.
Chairperson of the school's board of management Tom Sherlock said he hoped the change would help students questioning their gender.
The idea was brought forward by students themselves.
"It all started when four girls in one of the senior classes approached the principal, Marie Costello, with the idea because they were concerned that one child in the school was uncomfortable with the current uniform policy," he said.
"Ms Costello asked them to develop the idea and do some research on it, which they did. She was hugely impressed with their work and brought it before the board of management.
"We decided to ask parents for their opinion on the school email system, and we did not receive any negative responses."
He said that from September there would be a gender-neutral uniform policy in place, while the school was also phasing in gender-neutral bathrooms.
Mr Sherlock said since the news was announced "we have had a few negative phone calls, mostly from anonymous callers, and we did have a phone call from a parent complaining that he was not told of the change, but we were able to show that parents were notified".
He added: "The vast bulk of our parents have been hugely supportive. There will always be people who will be opposed to this, that is for sure, but what is most important is that even one student feels more comfortable now."
Former education minister Jan O'Sullivan, who oversaw the publication of guidelines called 'Being LGBT in School' for post-primary schools when she was in office in 2016, welcomed the news "particularly because it is coming from the children within the school themselves".
"People are questioning gender at younger ages and it is up to the schools to ensure that they can do so in a welcoming environment," she added.
She said the Department of Education should advise more schools to consider implementing such change and should monitor progress at St Brigid's as well.
Moninne Griffith, who is chief executive of the LGBT organisation BeLong To, said similar projects were planned in more schools.
"Many schools are working with us to create safe, supportive and welcoming learning environments for trans students," she said.
Regarding the negative comments, Sara Phillips, who is chairperson of Transgender Equality Network Ireland (Teni), said the backlash was to be expected.
"I think every situation on trans issues brings negative comments, especially when young people are involved. Parents often focus on how it will affect their children, which is understandable," she said. "But the negativity often comes from a lack of information and understanding and I think if we focused more on the child questioning their gender, and how it would improve their life, the response would be much better."