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Change the world

19/03/2024

Mandela University’s Faculty of Education’s Primary School Education Department and the Arts and Social Sciences Discipline at Missionvale Campus with a guest lecture on “Gender and Sexual Diversity through the lens of Human Rights”.

 

Education's Dr Tobeka Mapasa, left, and Dr Kagola Obakeng, right, together with the speaker Prof Anthony Brown; Foundation Phase students among the audience attending the lecture.  

Professor Anthony Brown, from the Department of Educational Psychology at Stellenbosch University outlined the legal and ethical foundation of LGBTQI+ inclusion as a human rights imperative in education.

He discussed the dire consequences when schools fail to protect the rights of sexual and gender minority learners and provided a framework for how future teachers can examine their own values and beliefs to uphold their professional responsibilities to all learners, regardless of identity.

The legal and ethical imperative of LGBTQI+ inclusion

Professor Brown said the belief that all people have inherent human rights regardless of identity, is foundational to South Africa's constitutional order. As the preamble to our Constitution states, [we] adopt this supreme law of the land to "Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice, and fundamental human rights”.

He said these laws and policies made unequivocally clear that equality for LGBTQI+ learners is a necessary requirement of realising the right to education. To emphasise his points, he quoted Graca Machel, saying "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

“The failure to protect the human rights of LGBTQI learners has heartbreaking consequences for these youth, crippling their ability to access their right to education. In schools across South Africa, discrimination, exclusion, and victimisation targeting sexual and gender minorities is pervasive,” he added.

Why the theme “Gender and Sexual Diversity through the lens of Human Rights.”

“There's a lot of discrimination and violence towards our young people in schools and therefore everyone matters, every child matters and children drop out of school because of this violence, and for that reason, we insist that every child should be protected regardless of how they identify their background,” he said.

Diversity in sexual orientation and gender inclusion in education is not a side issue or a question of personal conviction. It is an essential human rights duty that we should uphold as the cornerstone of our work ethics.

“Sexual and gender diversity inclusion in education is not a peripheral issue or a matter of personal belief. It is a fundamental human rights obligation that we must embrace at the core of our professional ethics,” according to him.

Prof Brown added: “As another luminary of the freedom struggle, Desmond Tutu said, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." There can be no neutrality when it comes to the safety, well-being, and right to education of our all learners including learners who identify as LGBTIQ+, he concluded.

Concrete strategies for action

Professor Brown said the challenge of reconciling LGBTQI+ inclusion with personal views is problematic and provided some key everyday practices to uphold the rights of sexual and gender minority learners including:

* Use learners' correct names and pronouns. Don't make assumptions about identity. Let your conduct transparently convey that all are welcome. 

* Display LGBTQI+-affirming posters and safe space signs in the classroom and include LGBTQI+ perspectives and accomplishments across all subject areas. Build a library collection that reflects the full diversity of human experience.

* Intervene swiftly and consistently to address homophobic and transphobic harassment, name-calling, and bullying. Make clear that anti-LGBTQI bias is never acceptable. Take a restorative justice approach, focused on repairing harm and educating, but staying firm on the need for accountability. Follow up to ensure impacted learners feel safe and supported.

* Push for inclusive policies and practices schoolwide. Advocate for gender-neutral dress codes, bathroom/changing room access, extracurricular participation policies, and comprehensive anti-bullying measures. Insist that sexual orientation and gender identity be explicitly protected. Work to reform any areas where discrimination is being institutionalised.

* Provide LGBTQI+-competent support services and referrals, such as mental health professionals, healthcare providers, community organisations and crisis resources. Make the information proactively available to all.

* Respect learner confidentiality and privacy. Never disclose a learner's sexual orientation or gender identity to others, including parents, without their express consent. Recognise the very real risks of rejection and even violence that LGBTQI+ youth can face when outed. Provide affirming support, but let learners decide when and how to share their truth.

* Pursue your own ongoing learning and growth. Stay open and curious. Examine your biases not with judgment, but with an invitation to expand your perspective. Consume LGBTQI+ media and stories. Build relationships across difference. Embrace the discomfort of unlearning as a pathway to transformation.

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160
elma.dekoker@mandela.ac.za