Tag Archives: macho

School uniform rules relaxed for LGBT students in Puerto Rico

Students at public schools across Puerto Rico for the first time can choose to wear pants or skirts as part of their uniform regardless of their gender without being punished, a move that has unleashed a debate in this socially conservative island.

Education Secretary Rafael Roman said this week that the new regulation he recently signed is meant to be inclusive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. He added that teachers will no longer be allowed to discipline students who prefer to wear pants instead of skirts or vice versa.

“No student can be sanctioned for not opting to wear a particular piece of clothing … that he or she does not feel comfortable with,” he told reporters.

Girls at public schools in Puerto Rico traditionally wear skirts as part of their uniforms and the boys wear pants.

LGBT civil rights activists and some school officials praised the measure, which comes months after Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an executive order prohibiting bullying in public schools based on sexual orientation.

“It’s a bit late, but it was approved, which is important,” said Cristina Torres, director of a high school in Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second-largest city. “Changing people’s mentality from one day to another will be hard … The most incredible thing is that young people can accept this with an open mind, but it’s the adults who discriminate.”

Torres is familiar with the issue. Teachers filed a complaint against her two years ago for appearing in a picture with a student who wore women’s clothing at his graduation. The student was a victim of bullying and had received an award for overcoming difficult circumstances, she said.

“Our responsibility is to protect students’ rights,” Torres said.

However, critics of the new regulation accused government officials of acting like dictators and stripping parents of their power.

“Once again, this government and the Department of Education work against what’s best for our children,'” said officials with Alerta Puerto Rico, a conservative group that says it was founded to promote family and childhood values.

But Roman argues that parents have the final word on how their children dress for school since they’re the ones buying the uniform. He added that several school districts in the U.S. mainland have adopted similar regulations.

Messages left with the U.S. Department of Education were not immediately returned.

Paola Gonzalez, a 39-year-old transsexual woman who grew up in Puerto Rico and now lives in Albany, New York, said she wished the measure would have been approved years ago.

“It would have simplified my life,” she said, adding that she has some concerns about the new regulation given what she described as Puerto Rico’s “macho” culture.

“For a student to come out and say I identify with this gender and wear these clothes … that will be a big step,” Gonzalez said. “The school may also have to consider the safety of the student.”

Garcia’s administration previously approved several measures in favor of the gay community, including one that allows transgender and transsexual people to change their gender on their driver’s license and another that protects their rights when seeking medical services.

Court restores verdict in case involving harassed ironworker

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has restored a jury’s verdict that a construction company illegally subjected an ironworker to severe and pervasive harassment based on gender stereotypes.

The ruling came in regards to a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity complaint filed against Boh Bros. construction company on behalf of ironworker Kerry Woods.

The EEOC’s complaint said BB superintendent Chuck Wolfe verbally harassed Woods, exposed himself to the employee and made taunting gestures of a sexual nature.

The harassment, according to the complaint, took place during work on the I-10 Twin Span project over Lake Pontchartrain between Slidell and New Orleans in Louisiana.

At the trial, the EEOC presented evidence that Wolfe harassed Woods because he thought he was feminine and did not conform to the supervisor’s gender stereotypes of a typical “rough ironworker.”

A jury ruled in favor of Woods and the EEOC, but a three-judge panel of the circuit court of appeals reversed the verdict, finding that Woods was not harassed because of sex.

The EEOC asked for a review by the full appeals court, which vacated the panel’s decision and reinstated the jury’s verdict.

“We are gratified that the Fifth Circuit recognized ‘the good common sense of the American people,’ as the court put it, and reinstated the jury verdict,” said EEOC general counsel David Lopez in a news release. “We agree with the Fifth Circuit that ‘few institutions are as venerable as that of trial by jury.’”

The majority on the court held, in a first for the circuit, that harassment is “because of sex” if it is based on lack of conformity with gender stereotypes.

The Fifth Circuit also held that the issue is whether the harasser considered the victim to deviate from gender stereotypes, and not whether the victim fails in fact to conform to those stereotypes.

So, the court ruled, what mattered was how Wolfe saw Woods.

“This is a very significant outcome to employees who work in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, which is the region covered by the Fifth Circuit,” said Jim Sacher, EEOC’s regional attorney for the Houston District, which oversaw the case. “It makes unquestionably clear to all employers that if they harass an employee because of gender stereotypes, they are breaking the law.”

The case now goes back to the district court level, where damage amounts must be set. 

The construction company is based in New Orleans and employs more than 1,500 people. After Hurricane Katrina struck the area in 2005, the company worked on many publicly funded rebuilding and expansion projects, according to the EEOC.