Cape Town – An investigation is under way into allegations of queerphobia and discrimination at DF Malan High School in Bellville, said Education MEC Debbie Schäfer.
The school has been accused of infringing upon the rights of learners from the LGBTQI+ community following an incident where queer learners were subjected to discrimination by staff and pupils at the school.
The school was recently in the news after indicating that it wanted to change to name of the school to rid it of its association with apartheid prime minister DF Malan.
On Monday a group of queer students and their allies came together at break time to celebrate the first week of International Pride Month when they were allegedly subjected to hate speech by pupils and staff.
The group was allegedly surrounded, threatened and intimidated. This was before they were allegedly added to a WhatsApp group called “F*ck The F*ggots”.
A petition has been started by an LGBT non-profit organisation, the Triangle Project, seeking justice for the queer learners.
The organisation demanded the school apologise publicly, discipline the students for their behaviour and actively hold educational seminars for both pupils and teachers to promote inclusion in the school.
In a statement the school governing body (SGB) of the school said the school was approached by a pupil to commemorate Pride Month at the school and the principal, in consultation with the SGB, decided to not grant the request.
“However, some learners have decided to hold a ’sit-in’ during breaks. As the school anticipated, this led to a group of learners making unacceptable remarks,” said the statement.
“The outcome was exactly what the school wanted to prevent.The school regrets the incident and we realise that we need to work harder on our plans to achieve mutual respect between each other.”
Triangle Project research and advocacy manager Estian Smit said prejudice and discriminatory attitudes cannot be allowed to dictate the school environment and deny the existence of diversity.
“What happened at the school is not an isolated incident, happening at just one school,” said Smit. “We are frequently approached by LGBTQI+ learners and their families about the exclusion and abuse they face in both public and private schools.
“Learners are raising these issues within schools but are not being taken seriously. Bullying, violence and marginalisation in schools harm young people’s sense of self, their emotional and physical wellbeing, and their ability to complete their education. Some are thinking of taking their own lives.”
Activist Kamva Gwana said the “queerphobic attack” that occurred at the school was a sobering reminder that queerphobia in the country was a maintained machine of hatred that crosses generational lines.
“How is it that children born into a democratic dispensation that embraces diversity and tolerance can utter the same rhetoric of hatred that we associate with an ‘older generation’?
“This attack is yet again a wakeup call to our government departments to root out queerphobia on a systemic level. The need for public awareness campaigns in support of LGBTQI+ people in schools, religious institutions and the general public has never been more pressing.
“Homophobes have no place in our schooling system..” said Gwana.
Provincial ANC assistant spokesperson for education Mesuli Kama called on the South African Human Rights Commission to launch an investigation into the incident.
“The ANC supports the activists at that school as much as we would support the activists at any other school fighting racism and classicism in schools. Learners and parents from all these former Model C schools must realise that their children are not getting a better education simply because the fees are higher there,” he said.
WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the department had notified the District Office that will be conducting an investigation. Schäfer also said that she was deeply concerned by the allegations of discrimination against LGBTQI+ learners at the school.
“Such behaviour has absolutely no place in our schools. An investigation by the district is currently under way to establish the full facts of the matter, and we await the outcome thereof.
“We will work with the school to ensure that such incidents are not repeated in future. The WCED is committed to ensuring that our schools are inclusive spaces, where values of equality and non-discrimination are upheld. We expect our schools to take active steps to promote such an environment,” Schäfer said.
Hammond added that the department was in the process of finalising the Guidelines on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in Public Schools of the province.
“There had previously been no guidelines or policies for schools to follow to support transgender learners, for example, in the Western Cape or in any other province in this country.
“So to assist schools in creating a more inclusive environment for all learners, regardless of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, we have been in the process of developing guidelines,” said Hammond.
* Additional reporting by Theolin Tembo.