Western Cape schools embrace transgender learners

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Christina Pitt

Western Cape schools are starting to embrace transgender learners and are encouraged to protect members of the LGBTQI community from bullying, thanks to the Department of Basic Education.

Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said that a couple of Cape Town high schools have allowed transgender learners to wear the uniforms that they are more comfortable in.

“Student Governing Bodies (SGB) are dealing with this issue on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

“So far, we have only heard from Westerford High School in Rondebosch, where transgender students are allowed to change uniforms.”

A booklet published in 2015 entitled Challenging Homophobic Bullying in Schools provides guidelines to teachers, learners and SGB members that promote an inclusive school environment.

The booklet contains definitions for words used when “talking in an affirming way about gender and sexual minorities”. These words include “intersex”, “transgender” and “coming out”.

“Given the linguistic diversity of South Africa, the language used in homophobic bullying may include some of the following terms: st*bane in isiZulu; m*ffie in Afrikaans; f*ggot and queer in English; and the term gay is also sometimes used in a derogatory way,” reads the booklet.

According to the booklet, learners who experience homophobic bullying may experience higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicide and they may remain silent about the bullying.

“This silence and invisibility are a distinctive aspect of homophobic bullying. Young people who experience homophobic bullying may:

  • Have higher levels of absenteeism and truancy and be less likely to enter higher/further education
  • Be more likely to contemplate self-harm/suicide and have low self-esteem
  • Show signs of physical ill health
  • Underachieve academically or leave school early
  • Engage in risk-taking behaviours, such as unprotected sex”

Hammond clarifies that the booklet provides guidelines for all learners who form part of the LGBTQI community.

“This is not only about transgender learners, it’s about the LGBTQI community. The booklet lists a number of anti-bullying strategies,” she said.

“No learner should be discriminated on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”

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