Sexual Identity In The Classroom

Published: June 2, 2014

An initiative to sensitise teachers to gender identity and homophobia and how to deal with such issues in the classroom looks set to be rolled out in schools across KwaZulu-Natal.

A project that investigated lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) issues in schools was discussed at a report back held at Durban’s Elangeni/Maharani Hotel on Friday.

The study involved 800 trainee and in-service teachers in KZN who were trained in how to teach sexual and gender diversity and to how to best challenge homophobia and transphobia in the classrooms.

“Our research showed that pupils who self-identify as LGBTI are bullied,” said Cheryl Potgieter, deputy vice chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and head of the College of Humanities, and a co-principal investigator of the project.

“Despite the fact that our Constitution and the Schools Act guarantees freedom from discrimination, people are not in sync with the law.

“Many men and women are assaulted or even murdered as they are identified as being different from the dominant heterosexual identity,” said Potgieter.

The project has produced a curriculum resource pack for teachers — “Teaching about sexual diversity and challenging homophobia/transphobia in the South African school system”.

The pack is co-authored by Potgieter and two other co-principal investigators Thabo Msibi — senior lecturer in curriculum studies in the UKZN School of Education and Finn Reygan — post-doctoral research fellow in the faculty of Education at the University of the Free State.

The initiative was funded by the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to South Africa.

“South Africa is a shining example that led the global community as the first country to legally prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in its 1996 constitution,” said U.S. Consul-General Taylor Ruggles.

“There is now growing consensus around the world that mainstreaming gender identity education in schools is a key part of the struggle for equal rights,” Ruggles said.

“This is a human rights issue, not a gay issue,” he said, speaking about possible objections to such an initiative. “We are seeking human rights for LGBTI people. It is important to find that common ground of human rights.”

The two-year project had been primarily aimed at “academics who teach teachers”, according to Crispin Hemson, director of the International Centre of Non-violence, based at Durban University of Technology, and an adviser to the project.

He said those trainee teachers would then enter schools able to deal with LGBTI issues.

Glodean Thani, assistant director: Social Cohesion and Equity in Education, with the Department of Basic Education, welcomed the research as a tool for fighting stereotypes “and making our schools safer for all pupils, especially the vulnerable pupils”.

Asked if there was a commitment to rolling out the programme into schools, Potgieter said the project was the “beginning not the end”.

“We are engaging with and have the support of the provincial and national education departments”.

Speaking to The Witness, Niranjan Bridglall, director: Special Needs Education, said the provincial Department of Education was committed to moving on the issue.

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