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Oxford men in skirts? University amends centuries-old dress code to include LGBTQ community

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On
July 30, 2012

Oxford University in the United Kingdom has amended a centuries-old dress code to be more inclusive of transgender students, reports university newspaper, The Oxford Student

The new rules allow for any student, regardless of biological gender, to adhere to either the male or female dress code. In the past, students would have had to seek special permission to wear clothes of the opposite gender.

Students attending the prestigious university must adhere to a strict dress code while writing exams and at formal university occasions.

"Under the old laws on academic clothing - known as subfusc - male students were required to wear a dark suit and socks, black shoes, a white bow tie and a plain white shirt and collar under their black gowns," reports the BBC.

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"Female students had to wear a dark skirt or trousers, a white blouse, black stockings and shoes and a black ribbon tied in a bow at the neck."

The motion to amend the dress code was put forward by the university's LGBTQ Society's executive officer Jess Pumphrey, who says the new rules will make sitting an exam far less stressful for a number of students, reports The Oxford Student.

"I think that to allow people to express themselves through their clothes without gender-coated restrictions is a step forward," says Dara Parker, executive director of QMUNITY, BC's Queer Resource Centre. "And, of course, that speaks to transgendered peoples rights, but it also speaks to people who don't buy into binary gender expression."

Parker points out that while North American society may look at a man wearing a skirt as unconventional, many other cultures view men who wear what we would consider skirts as completely acceptable.

"To me, it's baffling that our clothes are so closely linked to our gender and I think that stifles lots of different forms of expression," she says.

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As to whether or not Oxford University's decision to be inclusive of the transgender community will have a ripple effect, Parker views it with cautious optimism.

"There are lots of signs of progress and more inclusionary practices that we witness in North America," she says. "In my international travels, I've started to see that take place. Simultaneously, there's lots of bigotry that exists in the world."

Parker says that most people are still not comfortable with someone who doesn't immediately fall into one of the gender stereotypes. If we see someone on the street whose gender we can't immediately identify, we often hesitate and are confused. Some people have an intensely negative reaction, she says. So while progress has been made in accepting the transgender community, we still have a way to go.

"It's a step in the right direction, but it's a small step," says Parker. "I think for most people who don't conform within traditional gender understanding, it's very difficult as they move through the world."

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