Most New Zealanders appear to be comfortable with the idea of gender-neutral school uniforms - but for many people unisex toilets and changing rooms are a step too far.

A Herald online poll of 1800 readers so far shows 54 per cent support for a Post-Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) proposal that schools "should have gender-neutral uniforms, toilets and changing rooms".

Only 40 per cent are opposed so far, with 6 per cent undecided.

Many readers commented on the Herald's Facebook page that many schools already allowed girls to wear shorts and, at least in theory, would let boys wear skirts.


"My daughter wears the boys' shorts to school, only because they are more comfy than the skirt. Most of the girls wear shorts anyway," wrote Mt Albert mum Gemma Warby, who runs a "Mother's Helper" advice service for new and expectant mothers.

Lisa Marie Ryder said: "When I went to school (90's early 2000's) the girls were allowed to buy and wear the boys' uniform. As long as we were in full uniform it was all good."

Katie Burke said: "We only have unisex toilets in the bus station here in Christchurch. They are full rooms, not cubicles, so offer complete privacy, as I'm sure the schools would if they offered that."

The new PPTA guidelines urge schools to let both boys and girls "choose from a range of shorts, trousers, skirts of different lengths and styles".

They also propose "options for students to change and shower in privacy", and "individual toilet and shower units with lockable doors and floor-to-ceiling divisions" so that non-heterosexual and transgender students could feel safe.

PPTA Rainbow Taskforce convenor Shawn Cooper said that could mean simply relabelling disabled toilets so that they could be used by any student wanting to either go to the toilet or change in private.

"If the only label on it is 'disabled', then having a different gender identity might be identified as having a disability," he said.

"So labelling, and using correct signs and pronouns to indicate who that facility is appropriate for, that can be a big step forward."


However the idea of "gender-neutral changing rooms" was widely misinterpreted to mean boys and girls changing in the same room together.

"Gender neutral uniforms (affordable ones too) would be great, toilets cool, but not changing rooms. I certainly wouldn't be okay getting changed in front of strange men so why should girls feel okay about changing in front of boys?" wrote mother-of-four Melissa Gawn on the Herald Facebook page.

The PPTA cited research showing that girls do less physical activity than boys and suggested that was partly because skirts were not suitable for exercising.

University student Chrys Jones commented on Facebook: "As a girl in school I always got jealous of the boys wearing shorts during lunch time, as I wasn't able to run around and play in my skirt! Had to sit or stand, legs closed etc. It's just more practical."

Nicole Pybus said: "My daughter should have a uniform that allows her to climb trees and run about the same as the boys. At the moment she has long culottes and the boys have shorts."

Liz Heighway said: "Yes, why not. Everybody wears shorts and slacks. Do away with dresses/skirts."

Mt Maunganui Intermediate School acting principal Beryl Harvey said her school adopted a near-neutral uniform in 2007 as "a practical option for busy kids".

Our uniform polo shirts and fleecies are unisex, but girls wear culottes and boys wear shorts. Our PE uniform is unisex," she said.

But a minority of Herald Facebook readers opposed the whole idea of being "gender-neutral".

"We were made male and female for a reason! Just stop it ya bloody liberal crackpots!" wrote Uso Aiga Smith of Hamilton.

Tauranga chef Bradley John Seed said: "You would really be encouraging a mental disorder."

Family First director Bob McCoskrie issued a newsletter advising parents to ask their children's school principals and boards about how they would respond to the PPTA guidelines.

He cited a legal opinion confirming that limiting access to toilets and changing rooms to either boys or girls was allowed under the Human Rights Act and other laws.