Outcry over gay pupils database

Under fire for endangering pupils, department denies sending reckless email

The Eastern Cape provincial education department has been accused of endangering gay and lesbian pupils after it allegedly instructed principals to compile a database of all of them.

In an email addressed to principals across the province, purportedly written by an official at the department’s special programmes unit (SPU) last week, the department asks for names of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) pupils to be forwarded to its head office in advance of a workshop that was to be held on Tuesday.

“The SPU head office will be conducting a workshop to raise awareness on the rights of the LGBTI community and to ensure that their lives, morals and integrity are respected, on October 30 at Mpekweni Beach Resort,” reads the email, which City Press has obtained.

“You are therefore kindly requested to forward names of learners in your school that belongs to this community by end of business today [October 16].

“This will allow the district office to have a database of these learners and 10 of these learners will be attending the scheduled workshop.”

But after DA provincial education spokesperson Edmund van Vuuren demanded answers about the email, the department wrote another to principals the next day saying LGBTI pupils would no longer be part of the workshop because of the exams.

In a letter to the head of the SPU, Van Vuuren wrote: “The identification of learners belonging to the LGBTI [community] is discriminatory, unconstitutional and may lead to verbal, mental and even physical abuse against this group of learners by those who do not take kindly to their affiliation or allegiance.”

The day after Van Vuuren’s letter, the same official sent another email to the principals, saying the SPU “has since decided to not involve learners for this workshop due to exams”.

Van Vuuren said the move to create a database of LGBTI pupils was irresponsible and unconstitutional.

“[It is] an infringement on the privacy of the lifestyles of these learners and, in the wrong hands, could very easily result in physical harm.

"While South Africa has come a long way with LGBTI rights, more needs to be done to create safe and non-discriminatory environments at work and at school,” he said.

“In a climate where ‘corrective rape’ and assault based on sexual preference are commonplace, we cannot afford to expose members of this community to further risk and discrimination.”

He said his party had no problem with “holding the workshop for advocacy purposes” and “for others to have a better understanding of the diverse nature of lifestyles among us, and how best to deal with it”.

This week, the provincial education department distanced itself from the controversial email and says it is now investigating its origins.

Department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said there was no plan to collate a database of LGBTI pupils and that the only database they had asked for was for disabled pupils studying at mainstream schools who were not receiving state support.

“There is no activity or instruction to district coordinators to create a database for the LGBTI group. The only activity that talks to the LGBTI group is the awareness workshop scheduled for October 30,” he said.

“The alleged email purporting to be coming from the head office has not been sanctioned by those concerned and the SPU office.”

Mtima said the aim of the LGBTI workshop was to create awareness and sensitise delegates about pupils’ rights, create an understanding of human sexuality and communicate challenges they face, including hate crimes, homophobia, transphobia, corrective rape and bullying in schools.

“The department therefore distances itself from both the content and the form of this email.

"The department has thus started an internal investigation and is working hard to get the source of this email, which distorted the activities and objectives of the department’s programmes,” Mtima said.

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