Jess Insall’s clarion call for gender-neutral school uniforms

Given that there has been some comment about this policy proposal in the media and in some Liberal Democrat circles, it seemed like a good idea to publish Jess’s speech to Party Conference this weekend by way of answering some of the sceptics…

Thank you Chair, thank you Conference.

I am bursting for positive change. As a feminist, as an LGBTQ+ rights activist, and as a liberal democrat.

And we are making so many positive changes, but our schools are being caught short. There is one problem that causes so much harm, but is so simple to fix.


I am angry that girls are often forced to wear impractical and sexualised uniforms from ages as young as four years old.

Four years old.

The minute a girl walks into primary school she is shown that boys have more freedom to run about. She is taught to take inequality for granted, and to accept it as the norm.

We can change that. Instead of making all boys wear trousers, and all girls wear skirts, schools should simply let all pupils choose between trousers and skirts.

We need to stop telling our sisters and daughters to put the way they look before their education and we need to fight for their physical and mental health. As a feminist, I believe that is exactly what this amendment could do.

As an LGBTQ+ rights activist I am outraged because all pupils should have the right to feel valued and included at school, but if we don’t let them wear appropriate uniforms, or even acknowledge their sheer existence, this is just not a viable reality for some pupils.

We need to flush this blatant discrimination out of our school systems.

By making uniforms gender neutral, we give pupils the freedom decide how to dress appropriately for their personal identity, without limiting schools’ freedom to to decide what pupils can, or can’t, wear. This means transgender and non-binary pupils can dress appropriately for their gender, even if they’re not in a safe or comfortable place to come out formally to their school.

I joined this wonderful party only last June. I joined because of our values of openness, tolerance, and acceptance.

These were the very values that pushed me to put forward this amendment. Judging our young people on more than just their gender teaches them to be more open and accepting to those who are different. It teaches them to be tolerant to their classmates, but also their teachers, neighbours, friends, and family. This amendment will also support and enhance our existing policy on mental health, gender equality, improving education, and even freedom of movement. We need to give girls the freedom to move both of their legs, as independent limbs.

And I hear you ask… how could anyone oppose that?

The beloved Daily Mail warns us that “allowing boys to wear skirts for reasons of political correctness could be unsettling and confusing to some children.”

They’ve obviously never been to Scotland.

But our so called “equality” is useful for more than pissing off the right wing press. When pupils feel comfortable and welcome at school, it boosts self esteem and body positivity, which means pupils will be happier. And young people that enjoy education will engage more, and perform better academically.

Of course a lot of my discontent does come from personal experiences. From a young age, I have been jealous of my male friends’ ability to walk on a windy day without the colour of their undies entering the public domain. I have been jealous of their ability to run and climb, and I have always been conscious that there was a certain demeanour expected of me that was never expected of them.

But we’ve all had experiences like that. Whether we’re told to man up, or to act more ladylike, the problem is fundamentally the same.

When we tell people to act a certain way because of their gender, it spawns hatred, jealousy, and division.

So conference, let’s take this opportunity to diminish this division. Let’s give all pupils of all genders fairer school uniforms.

I urge you, as a feminist, as an LGBTQ+ rights activist, and as a liberal democrat, to vote in favour of this amendment.

Thank you conference.

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