Tshepo Modisane and Thoba Sithole got married in South Africa’s first traditional African gay wedding in 2013 Collective press statement from the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Network As a collective of LGBTI organisations working with queer y …

Tshepo Modisane and Thoba Sithole got married in South Africa's first traditional African gay wedding in 2013

Tshepo Modisane and Thoba Sithole got married in South Africa’s first traditional African gay wedding in 2013

Collective press statement from the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Network

As a collective of LGBTI organisations working with queer youth we would like to broaden the debate around gender inequality and violence in the month of August – women’s month. The debate during this time is often limited to the realities faced by adult heterosexual women, rarely addressing issues around youth, and particularly queer youth to whom educational institutions have become a hostile environment.

The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Network is a collective of South African civil society organisations working to address issues faced by LGBTI students in South Africa’s educational institutions from primary to tertiary level. Reports of bullying and abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students in schools, targeted because of their non-conforming sexual or gender identity, are on the increase.

On June 10 Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA), an organisation based in Pretoria, published a statement about a transgender learner experiencing bullying because of his gender identity at Pretoria Central High School. The bullying took the form of sexual assaults and threats to undress the pupil in school.

Following this report The Pink Tongue, a queer newspaper, published a follow up article about the learner, stating that he had attempted suicide as a result of the bullying he experienced at school. In Cape Town a group of lesbian learners were verbally and physically assaulted by school teachers when they expressed discomfort with wearing the school tunics assigned to girls. When one of the learners told the teacher about their discomfort, the teacher responded by saying “pull down your pants so I can see what’s behind there”. One of the students was hit on the back of the head by a teacher and told “now go and call your lawyers. Let them put up a shack for you and teach you here.” In Limpopo when a student refused to conform to gender-segregated uniforms, the principle encouraged the other learners to follow her to the toilets and to physically ‘check’ her genital area.

Bullying in schools is a persisting trend, however the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Network has noted a sharp increase of bullying of LGBTI and other gender-nonconforming students. The Department of Education recognises various types of bullying which can occur and the South African Schools Act, in line with the Constitution, calls for the eradication of discrimination and intolerance. Yet there has been little movement in addressing issues connected with gender- and sexual orientation-based bullying in schools.

Bullying and abuse of LGBTI and other gender non-conforming students can take various forms, ranging from inappropriate questions to physical undressing of pupils and even physical violence. Most alarming to the Network are the cases of teacher participation and encouragement of various forms of homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

Education in South Africa is a gender segregated experience. From uniforms, sports and curricula – gender plays a divisive role in the school lives of gender non-conforming students. These students are effectively excluded from participating in various activities because they do not subscribe to expected conventions about gender identity and sexual orientation. This has the effect of excluding these students and making them targets of bullying manifesting in various forms from brutal physical attacks to teasing and exclusionary conduct from other students.

The hostility presented by the various forms of abuse, exclusion and harassment leave students feeling unsafe and unwilling to attend school. The situation as it currently stands effectively deprives LGBTI and other gender non-conforming students of their rights to; education; freedom of expression; safety and security and most importantly their right to an equal opportunity to be fully functional future adults. This situation sets up LGBTI and other gender non-conforming students for a life of exclusion from tertiary education opportunities, unemployment and a general inability to participate as fully functional citizens of South Africa. Suicide is a serious problem amongst LGBTI youth with 31% stating that they have had thoughts of committing suicide and 21% saying they have attempted to commit suicide. A 2006 study showed that 20% of gay/bisexual teenage males and 19% of lesbian/bisexual teenage females had been the raped of sexually assaulted. This and other factors such as bullying contribute to the high suicide rate amongst LGBTI youth in South Africa.

Gender segregation has long term psychological effects such as depression and suicide. LGBTI students are at a higher risk for suicide and self-harm. The Department of Basic Education needs to acknowledge gender segregation and LGBTI-related bullying as a problem that needs its immediate and urgent attention through policy and any other form of legal redress, as well as effective and consistent implementation of policies.

For more information or if you are experiencing discrimination and abuse at school as a result of your sexual orientation or gender identity please contact Gabriel Hoosain Khan from GALA (Johannesburg) at 011 717 1782 or Busisiwe Deyi from Gender DynamiX (Cape Town) at info@genderdynamix.org.za or 021 633 5287.
This statement is issued on behalf of the following organisations


  • Triangle Project (Cape Town) 021 686 1475
  • Gay and Lesbian Centre (Durban) 031 312 7402
  • Forum for Empowerment of Women (Johannesburg) 011 403 1906/7
  • Gay and Lesbian Network (Pietermaritzburg) 033 342 6165
  • University of Witswatersrand – Transformation Office 011 717 1405

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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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