LGBTI in Schools in South Africa

South Africa stands as one of the countries in the African region for its protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and Intersex. In most countries in Africa, (more than two-thirds) same-sex acts remain illegal. Moreover, evidence found that African people are among the least accepting of homosexuality in the world.
Same-sex acts in South Africa are legal and discrimination based on sexual orientation, sex, and gender were outlawed in the Constitution after the dismantling of apartheid under Nelson Mandela’s administration in 1997. Despite these advances, many LGBTI individuals still feel as though they are unable to live openly.
LGBTI in schools
LGBTI in Schools
Research on schools in South Africa has found that LGBTI youth are more likely to experience stress and fear at school due to facing verbal, physical harassment and physical assault, sometimes rape because of their gender and sexual identity (de Barros, 2019). Transgender students face the highest rates of harassment, physical assault, and sexual violence.
LGBTI learners not only experience harassment from their peers but from teachers and school administrators. In some cases, teachers who are part of the LGBTI community also face discrimination from colleagues and learners. According to a study conducted by Butler et al. (2003) in some schools, there have been cases where learners have committed suicide after their school headmaster threatened to expel them because of their sexual orientation. Another study by the Human Rights Watch (2011), found evidence that some schools even reinforced social prejudices and discrimination towards LGBTI learners. In some cases, teachers would spread the idea that homosexuality is contagious, and therefore heterosexual learners were seen as being in danger of being “infected” by LGBTI learners Human Rights Watch (2011).
Such negative experiences can affect the likelihood that LGBTI youth will attend or complete school. There has been research that shows that those that experience victimization is more likely to have high rates of absenteeism, high levels of depression and anxiety, low self-esteem, and may even drop out of school (de Barros, 2019).
In terms of teaching, lessons about gender and sexuality diversity are ignored or avoided by teachers, as they do not feel comfortable with discussing such topics (Jones, 2018). Other teachers reported that they avoided topics of LGBTI in fear of being perceived as being homosexual (Jones, 2018).
Bullying and intolerance in schools are due to misinformation and lack of information (de Barros, 2019). This is often due to preconceived ideas and mindsets inherited from communities where it is taboo to focus or acknowledge homosexuality (de Barros, 2019). Despite how cisgender individuals may feel, the rights of LGBTI youth are protected by sections 9 and 10 of the Constitution as well as the South African Schools Act (SASA). Section 5 of the SASA states that learners should have their educational needs met without facing unfair discrimination.
Discrimination
How to improve the school experience for LGBTI learners
Inclusivity
To assist with LGBTQ in schools, in 2020 the Western Cape Department of Education drafted what is said to be South Africa’s first gender identity and sexual orientation guidelines, to make schools more inclusive and supportive of LGBTI learners (Writer, 2020). According to the department, current policies and guidelines that the Department of Education holds lack support for LGBTQI learners at school (Writer, 2020). It is believed that these new guidelines will fill the gap that the National Department of Basic Education has over the years left limited inclusion of LGBTI people in education and textbooks (Writer, 2020). This new policy is still a work in progress and is open to the public for individuals to offer their input and criticism to improve the policy.

The introduction of queer support in schools can help lay a foundation for safe spaces for learners. Schools such as Wynberg Girls High School, Rustenburg Girls, and other schools have such groups for learners. This allows students to receive advice and find others that they can relate to, and help them create a community of support. The creation of organisations and clubs will also assist with the expansion of school-based support for LGBTI youth.

Support Group

Nomzamo Dikana

Humanitarian