In March 2017 I started working for Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) to facilitate and coordinate an educational programme aimed at increasing the overall understanding and awareness of gender and sexual diversity issues amongst school management teams (SMTs) and school communities.
The facilitation of this project also provides SMTs, youth and members of various communities with the information, resources and ideas to effectively foster a more inclusive school environment and community that challenges bullying against gender- and sexually diverse people, and approaches sexual and gender diversity through a human rights approach.
The work has been challenging, but thus far, the responses to these workshops with learners, teachers and members of communities (for example, parents) have been tremendously positive, regardless of initial resistance to engage with the subject of gender identity and sexual orientation, which is still considered taboo in many communities in South Africa.
The consensus is that communities and schools that are open to the possibility of addressing these issues on their campuses, and are willing to participate in these workshops, are often in need of support.
Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and/or queer (LGBTIQ) youth experience discrimination in school environments and in their communities. Teachers, school management and community leaders need to be equipped to address these issues and prevent further prejudice from taking place.
The sensitivity workshops make teachers aware of the harsh reality that their students who identify as LGBTIQ may be subjected to (for example, physical violence or emotional abuse). Sensitivity workshops aim to address these issues by raising awareness and encouraging empathy amongst learners and staff members, to foster a culture of safety and acceptance in school environments and communities.
The predominant perception of gender and sexually diverse individuals in schools and broader communities in South Africa is still of a very traditional and conservative nature.
Similarly, the workshops that were facilitated by GALA with youth groups in rural and peri-urban areas this year focused on the various challenges that LGBTIQ youth face as a result of the stigma attached to their identities, and through raising awareness around these issues, we hope that the content and resources offered during the facilitation of this project will debunk myths and reduce discriminatory behaviour.
However, the project is not always supported by schools and communities, as there are many people who do not want this training to take place with their staff/management teams, youth groups or community members. This may be due to a variety of reasons, but the rejection of such training does testify to the immense need to raise awareness around gender identity and sexual orientation in South Africa.
The predominant perception of gender and sexually diverse individuals in schools and broader communities in South Africa is still of a very traditional and conservative nature. In many cases, these perceptions can lead to harmful and violent behaviour, putting LGBTIQ individuals at risk.
Educational projects are therefore essential, not only because they raise awareness, but also due to the fact that they can make a difference in the lived experiences of queer-identifying individuals who otherwise have limited access to information, and do not have support.
We hope that the work can continue, as we've only just scratched the surface, and the more we do, the more we become aware of the need to address these issues in school spaces.