A report entitled Teaching about Sexual Diversity and Challenging Homophobia-Transphobia in the South African School System was released this month at South Africa's University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) with funding provided by the United States Diplomatic Mission to South Africa. Even though the South African Constitution was the first in the world to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and South Africa was the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, LGBT South Africans continue to endure much homophobic abuse. The harassment they face goes beyond hate speech and exclusion, to violent attacks called "corrective rapes" where the perpetrators attempt to "cure" LGBT people.
The current report is the culmination of two years' worth of work studying the experiences of LGBT students in South African schools and developing training materials for around 800 teachers-in-training at UKZN. It consists of a curriculum resource pack for challenging teachers' personal homophobic attitudes, as well as curricular materials for teaching about sexual and gender diversity in the classroom.
Cheryl Potgieter, deputy vice-chancellor of UKZN, head of the college of humanities, and one of the project's principal investigators, recounted the time she was told by others that she was "committing academic suicide" when she completed a PhD dissertation in 1998 titled " Black South African, Lesbian Discourses of Invisible Lives." In fact, many believed she was kidding about her lesbian-themed work, as her graduation occurred on April Fools day of that year. Her work back then was also sponsored by a grant from the United States.
South Africans face a lot of confusion and misunderstanding when it comes to LGBT issues, so it makes sense to use the wisdom of former president Nelson Mandela, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
Another of the project's principal investigators, Dr Thabo Msibi, senior lecturer in curriculum studies in the school of education at UKZN, explained “The target in designing this project was higher education. Namely, teachers who teach teachers. Our hope was that in training higher education practitioners to be able to be comfortable teaching about LGBTI issues, that would transfer into the schools, to the pupils, and filter out from there."
This project is no April Fools joke! The rights of LGBT people must be taken seriously, and greater understanding and acceptance begins with education.
Read more at University World News.