Some might find the dress code at Bangkok University—yes, colleges in Thailand often impose a uniform—old-fashioned, with male students required to wear pants and female students assigned skirts. But in a move toward inclusiveness, the school recently announced that it’s A-OK with students switching up the outfits to match their gender identity.
The school released new images on Facebook this week, displaying two outfit choices for students who do not identify with one gender or another, with both the traditional pant and skirt options available for the gender fluid students referred to in Thailand as “tomboys” and “ladyboys.”
These terms would likely come off as offensive in the U.S. but are not considered derogatory in Thailand—they are even affectionately used to describe the contestants in the preeminent transgender beauty pageant Miss Tiffany Universe.
Prominent LGBT advocates have praised the university’s new guidelines. “I am very glad to hear that this university lets the students choose the uniform which fits their desire and their gender,” Nok Yollada, president of the Transgender Female Association of Thailand, told the BBC.
This uniform expansion represents the country’s views regarding gender on a sliding scale, in which one’s identity doesn’t necessarily fall into the binary of male or female. Thailand recognized the third gender in the newest version of its constitution in January, according to Reuters. The Southeast Asian country officially considers those who don’t identify with the sex they are assigned at birth as a third gender.
“There are not only men and women; we need to protect all sexes. We consider all sexes to be equal,” Kamnoon Sittisamarn, a government spokesperson, told Reuters regarding the constitutional changes.
Considered a positive inclusion by Thai LGBT advocates, adding a third gender puts all residents on an equal playing field, making LGBT discrimination illegal—which is not guaranteed in the majority of U.S. states—without forcing residents to self-identify as either male or female.
So, Why Should You Care? Clothing often signifies an outward expression of one’s identity. Uniforms can become an anxiety-inducing daily conflict for people whose gender identity does not match their gender expression.
Bangkok University is the first Thai educational institute to allow students to dress according to their gender identity, and the move has the potential to pave the way for other universities to do the same.
The school isn’t prepared to ditch the dress code guidelines entirely, though. Students can choose between pants and skirts, but flip-flops and untucked shirts won’t be tolerated.