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School principal ‘acted prudently’ on gender-neutral uniform decision, experts says

Gender-neutral uniform: “It sounds as though the principal has acted prudently and is taking good advice, so I’m confident that the right thing is happening for these particular students.”

GENDER dysphoria educator Fr Joseph Parkinson has recognised the move by a Catholic school principal to allow students struggling with their gender identity to wear a gender-neutral uniform as a wise decision.

Fr Parkinson is director of the LJ Goody Bioethics Centre and a priest from the Archdiocese of Perth who has written a paper to assist Catholic schools in caring for students with gender dysphoria, which is defined as a “persistent and profound discomfort” with a person’s biological sex and their identified opposite gender.

It is considered a psychological state of distress and is a growing concern within Catholic schools across Australia.

In Western Australia alone, Fr Parkinson was a consultant for primary school-aged students whose families were seeking advice to manage their child’s gender dysphoria.

In Fr Parkinson’s paper, which was completed in July, he recommended “preventative measures” to protect students from further psychological distress associated with gender dysphoria.

This includes the extension of “non-gender-specific uniforms” to all students, not just those with gender identity issues, and encouraging ‘unisex’ toilets and showers.

Fr Parkinson said a recent decision by a Catholic school principal to allow two students struggling with their biological gender to wear gender-neutral uniforms was the appropriate course of action.

“It sounds as though the principal has acted prudently and is taking good advice, so I’m confident that the right thing is happening for these particular students,” Fr Parkinson said.

At the end of last month, two students who were born female approached Trinity Catholic College principal Marist Brother John Hilet to seek permission to wear the boys’ uniform instead of the compulsory summer or winter dress for female students.

The students sought permission separately but were aware of each other’s appointment with the principal.

On August 25, Br Hilet sent a letter to parents informing them that the two students would arrive to school on August 28 in their approved gender-neutral uniform.

Br Hilet said Catholic teaching of compassion and dignity for the human person motivated his decision to allow the two students to wear a gender-neutral uniform.

“I did have somebody accuse me of going against Church teaching, but what would Jesus do?” Br Hilet said.

“His response would have been total compassion for the student.

“I’d ask anyone to find me where it says in Church teaching that girls can’t wear boys clothes and boys can’t wear girls clothes.”

This is the first time Br Hilet has responded to students with gender dysphoria, but said before he became principal a female student was allowed to wear the boys’ uniform during Year 11 and 12.

Br Hilet said his school community included transgender parents as well as students.

“People come here (to the Northern Rivers) because of the accepting culture,” Br Hilet said.

Since allowing the two female-born students to wear a gender-neutral uniform, Br Hilet is investigating further uniform options, which would enable female students to wear shorts.

“The communication I’ve received from parents have been the encouragement for a greater need in uniform choices,” Br Hilet said.

Br Hilet said he rejected the idea that his decision would cause other students who may not struggle with gender dysphoria to identity as transgender.

“This is not going to start a floodgate of transgender students,” Br Hilet said.

Before making a decision on the pastoral care of students presenting with gender dysphoria, Fr Parkinson said the particular student needed to have their diagnosis reviewed.

Fr Parkinson said several Australian Catholic dioceses had requested schools seek independent medical advice before managing a student with gender dysphoria.

This would be a paediatrician for primary school students and for secondary students an andrologist or gynaecologist.

Students should also receive ongoing counselling from an expert psychologist “not from a school counsellor”.

Fr Parkinson does not recommend medical treatments in isolation as they “do not directly address the central characteristic of gender dysphoria”.

“The students are on a journey which will last way beyond their schools years,” Fr Parkinson said.

“Our response is to do the best we can for the student today.”

Br Hilet confirmed both students were seeing psychologists and requested to receive medical advice before allowing the students to wear another uniform.

“It wasn’t just two kids saying ‘I want to wear a different uniform’,” Br Hilet said.

Fr Parkinson’s paper, Preparing Catholic Schools to Care for Gender Dysphoric Students, has been sent to the dioceses of Maitland-Newcastle, Wollongong and Melbourne.

The Perth-based priest is scheduled to speak with Adelaide Catholic principals.

“It has now been circulated to Centres in the US and UK and is having some impact,” Fr Parkinson said.

Dysphoria educator: Fr Joseph Parkinson

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