Two Western Province schools have made headlines recently, and have been praised by many, for their decision to accept trans learners at the schools.
Westerford High School principal Rob le Roux explained to the media that the "needs of a transgender student were accommodated by allowing a change in uniform, and in the pronouns used to address the student."
He describes how the biggest change was in attitude, explaining "We had meetings with staff, parents and children to discuss how to deal with these types of requests."
To date, Wynberg Girls’ High is the first all-female school to accept a trans student, making good on their stance on inclusivity, which is such a big part of the school's values that it has also been officially factored into their admissions policy.
"We must not make excuses when it comes to inclusivity. We must do what we can to be a home and provide a base for all learners and that’s what we decided to do,” SGB member Richard Brown told the media recently.
The decision is in line with the South African Constitution's stance on the matter, which is very clear that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not to be condoned.
Non-profit human rights organisation, the Triangle Project, has said that this inclusion is "a really positive step," and it may not be long before more and more schools become more inclusive of transgender students as well.
Rural kids don't have the same support
Well-resourced suburban schools appear to quickly adjust to the unique challenges faced by transgender students, Ron Addinall, a Cape Town-based sexologist and social psychologist told the media, pointing out that the situation is not quite the same at township schools.
"I'm anxious about what is happening in the pre-urban and rural school environments," he has said, concerned that there are many transgender children in those schools that are not getting the support they need, and having to hide who they are.
Are you raising a transgender child? Share your story with us, and we could publish your mail. Anonymous contributions are welcome.
The trans reality in South Africa
In 2016, OUT LGBT Well-being conducted a national survey, specifically looking at the school experiences of LGBT people.
For 56% of those polled, discrimination had occurred at school, with the most common forms being verbal insults and threats of violence.
For 11% of respondents, "the discrimination had taken the form of rape or other sexual abuse."
Given these alarming stats, the importance of fostering understanding and acceptance in children cannot be overstated.
While one can point fingers at school boards, government funding and general societal opinion, at the end of the day parents must also take responsibility for their children's attitudes towards classmates who may not be the same.
We've gathered some resources to help parents engage in healthy conversations about trans students:
"The spectrum of gender identity"
"In the first few weeks [of high school], it was super difficult for me. Lots of people were still getting my pronouns and name wrong because they were adjusting...I was getting questions. And then at this point, people started to gossip. So the kids from my elementary school were telling the kids from other schools that I was trans. And as a result, I started sort of getting hate from some of them." - Greg, a trans student who shares his story in Back to school as a trans kid.
According to HRC.org, talking about gender "just like you would talk about race or family diversity" is an important step in helping anyone understand non-normative gender identities.
Keep it simple
The explanation does not have to be too complicated, and can be straightforward.
When talking to your child about transgender people, stress the importance of embracing uniqueness rather than fearing it. We live in a world with such amazing diversity, and being trans is just another way people add to the spectrum of life.
The Allsorts Youth Project in the UK offers a Trans Inclusion Schools Toolkit, and explains that gender should be looked at as a spectrum rather than "a binary choice between male or female."
Being trans means that a person does not identify as the biological sex they were born as, and a respectful approach entails being attentive of the pronouns they use and following their "lead and preferences."
We've compiled a list of gender terms, which you can read here: LGBTQIAP+: We help you understand 23 gender terms
Healthy Heads and Hearts: Difference is normal is another educational booklet produced by Allsorts, and is compiled of personal stories, emphasising that differences should be discussed as normal.
Emphasis on kindness
In the podcast How to Talk to Kids about Transgender Youth, Dr Robyn Silverman talks about the "constant scrutiny, bullying, humiliation and misunderstanding" of the transgender experience, often leading to compromised mental health and sadly suicide.
Her advice is: "Be loving, kind and honest even if you don’t understand."
Explaining a complex topic like non-normative gender identities is no easy task, however, kindness and compassion are concepts children already understand.
So even if your own understanding of the topic is only a very basic one, what could be simpler than ensuring your child is respectful and empathetic towards others?
The topic may be far from simple, but nothing could be simpler than being kind.
Sam and Charlene discuss this issue in their latest podcast on The Great Equalizer: an unfiltered podcast about parenting.
Speak to the professionals
We've deliberately kept our guidelines simple, but if you'd like to delve deeper here are a few local organisations providing guidance and information.
Phone 27-11 339 1476 or email email@example.com
Phone (011) 717 4239
Phone (021) 447 4797 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone (021) 686 1475 or email email@example.com
Share your stories and questions with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous contributions are welcome.
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