Here’s a problem that has somehow been ignored by nearly every school district in the country: Cross-gender dressing. But now a Virginia school district is considering a ban against it and that could start a whole new trend.

The school board in Suffolk, a district with about 14,400 students about 20 miles from Norfolk, is expected to vote next month on a dress code that would prohibit students from clothing “not in keeping with a student’s gender” and that “causes a disruption and/or distracts others from the education process or poses a health or safety concern,” Reuters reported.

Why is this coming up now?

A district spokeswoman said that some high school teachers had complained that some males were dressing like girls and that other students had objected.

Some board members say they support a ban on such dressing as an anti-bullying measure. Reuters said that board Vice Chairwoman Thelma Hinton cited the killing of a 15-year-old student in California who was a cross-dresser as part of the reason she supports a ban.

Gay rights and civil liberties organizations are opposed to a ban, saying that it would violate the right to free speech as well as be sexually discriminatory.

Reuters quoted James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, as saying, “If a girl comes to school wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, is that considered cross-gender dressing?”

This ranks up there with the effort — later reversed after an outcry — by Republicans in the Michigan legislature to insert language in anti-bullying legislation that said the bill “does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held belief or moral conviction” of a student or school worker. That was seen by activists as allowing bullies to prey on other students — especially those who are gay, lesbian or transgender, and to watch someone be bullied who they think might deserve it without trying to stop it.

Hopefully, cooler heads in Suffolk will have prevailed by the time the vote is taken and the school board can get back to finding legitimate ways to stop bullying.

It takes time and real commitment on the part of an entire school community to confront bullying. Government statistics show that at least a third of students ages 12 to 18 report being bullied during the school year. Most states have laws that make bullying illegal, but enforcement is scant.

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