A London, Ont., teenager is challenging their school’s dress code, arguing that banning them from wearing their lycra bodysuit to class is more a human rights issue connected to their gender identity than a matter of appropriate fashion.
Maxwell Stewart, 17, said the school's decision to ban their made-to-measure bodysuit was about their identity. Stewart recently came out as androgynous – which means Stewart doesn’t identify as strictly male or female but rather gender-neutral.
Stewart was told the bodysuit didn’t adhere to the dress code of London Central Secondary School.
“It came up that it was the crotch bulge, like the imprint, which I don’t think is especially noticeable,” Stewart said.
Stewart feels most comfortable in the multi-coloured onesie, and the presence of other very popular form-fitting or revealing — clothes like yoga pants and midriff showing shirts — makes them feel singled out, Stewart said.
But Karen Edgar, superintendent with the Thames Valley District School Board, said that Stewart’s gender identity has nothing to do with the ban that reflects a dress code applicable to all students.
“Any student wearing clothing that is too revealing is asked to cover up … in fact we celebrate the individual differences of our students,” Edgar said.
The Thames Valley board already has a set of guidelines put in place that mandate the inclusion of LGBT students — a policy that is unique in Ontario.
Trans-youth activist and councillor Michelle Boyce helped advise on the rule book.
“A lot of transphobia is buried beneath other excuses, like dress codes,” Boyce said.
“Let’s face it, if you put 40 people in a room, you’re going to get 50 different opinions on what’s appropriate clothing-wise.”
Boyce doesn’t see a problem with Stewart’s chosen outfit if it’s not getting in the way of their, or other students', academic success.
For now the school said that Stewart can either wear the bodysuit with shorts or a T-shirt on top or get a less form-fitting one.
“As terrible as an experience as this has been, it has sort of helped me really accept who I am,” Stewart said.