Gay rights at school under the spotlight

2013-05-13 00:00

THERE is still a long way to go in educating pupils about gay rights.

This has been revealed after research by a University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Education professor.

Professor Deevia Bhana’s research paper, titled “Moffies, gays, isitabane: Learning ‘straight’ and the implications for sexual education”, explored how “straight” pupils constructed meaning about homosexuality.

Bhana surveyed 620 pupils aged between 13 to 23 years in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng schools.

The paper is under review for publication in a journal.

Bhana used an example of one 19-year-old’s violently homophobic attitude towards homosexuals as an example of how young male pupils in particular felt about homosexuality.

Another 17-year-old pupil suggested that gay people should not be treated equally.

“They should have their own schools built for them … called the ‘School of Homosexuals’,” this pupil said.

However, Bhana said it was not true that all pupils were intolerant of gays.

“Schools are places where children have many differing views and there are many positive examples of learners accepting gays and lesbians,” she added.

A 16-year-old female pupil said: “I believe that homosexuals should be allowed in schools and that they should be given the same respect and privileges as others. They are human beings”.

Others expressed how homosexuals needed to be accepted and supported.

Even though the South African Schools Act of 1996 is rooted in democracy, Bhana believes that the promise of equality on the grounds of sexual orientation remains elusive.

“While it is important to note the changing attitudes towards same-sex sexualities, deep-seated views against homosexuality exist in schools, with gays and lesbians rejected and regarded as unacceptable,” she added.

The research also found that derogatory words were used to shame and exclude gays in schools.

Other pupils objected on religious grounds.

A 14-year-old said: “God didn’t make Adam and Steve”.

Some pupils said gays did not belong at their school.

“I don’t, I don’t, want them in my school and I won’t associate with them … If I had to associate with a person that is gay or lesbian, ‘ons gaan eendag baklei’ [we’ll fight one day],” this pupil said.

Bhana said the Education Department had an important role to play and intervention needed to be in place. Homophobia in schools needed to be addressed.

“While schools have life orientation programmes, the evidence is that homosexuality is silenced and ignored. The work has to begin to support a culture of dignity for all learners.”

The researcher said it was difficult to estimate the prevalence of discrimination against gay pupils at schools because where same-sex sexualities existed they remained closeted.

Other journal articles by Bhana are “Understanding and addressing homophobia in schools: A view from teachers” and “Parental views of morality and sexuality and the implications for South African moral education”.

Gay and Lesbian Network director Anthony Waldhausen said research by the network in 2011 in eight schools in Pietermaritzburg found that there was a high incidence of negative perception of gays.

The research found that most teachers could not present the homosexual topic in classrooms because of their religious and cultural backgrounds.

He said teachers lacked training and most pupils who came out of the closet were being bullied.

Waldhausen said the network aimed to create an awareness to sensitise not only pupils but also their teachers.

“We still have a long way to go,” he declared.

KZN Education Department spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said the department had not conducted such research, but that it promoted access to education for all, and that all pupils were treated equally at schools.


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