Bullied lesbian pupil, 14, too scared to return to school
Pearson High pupil traumatised by incessant bullying despite protection order
A lesbian teenager is too scared to return to school because of incessant bullying and harassment from her fellow pupils, despite a protection order.
The grade 8 Pearson High School pupil said she feared for her safety and was even too scared to use the school bathrooms in case someone harmed her.
She instead hid in the toilet cubicle when changing for extra-murals.
The girl, 14, said she felt the school had done nothing to protect her, even when other pupils were allegedly told not to talk to her because she might “rape them”.
LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning) activists slammed the treatment of the girl this week, calling on the prominent high school in Summerstrand to take action.
Former OUT!ology executive director Alain Redcliffe said it all started in the classroom.
“School bullying, homophobia, transphobia or any form of hate crime should not be tolerated,” Redcliffe said.
“All schools should have strict policies in place to protect LGBTQ learners from harassment.”
The matter was reported to the Eastern Cape department of education, which the girl’s mother claims shifted responsibility back to Pearson’s disciplinary committee.
The department did, however, offer to support the girl by providing her with counselling, but did little in terms of action against the alleged aggressors.
Though the name-calling and nasty remarks had died down after she approached the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court for a protection order on March 7, the girl said they had started up again when she cut her long ponytail off to donate to the Cancer Association of SA.
Rumours then spread that she was transgender.
The girl’s mother, who is not being named to protect the teen’s identity, said her daughter’s 2019 academic year had started off on a good note.
“My daughter made new friends and she was generally happy. Unfortunately, this did not continue.
“It was brought to my daughter’s attention by a new friend that another girl had been going around telling pupils about her sexual orientation,” the mother said.
“The girl was warned to be careful that my daughter did not rape her.”
The mom said she then approached the court to assist and they filed for a protection order against harassment.
The court issued a letter to the school in which it was instructed to allow the pupil to move classes.
School principal Hela Roux on Thursday referred all questions to the provincial education department’s Pumla Pinda-Nyoka.
Pinda-Nyoka and department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima did not respond to requests for comment.
“My mom decided to shave her long hair off so that wigs could be made for cancer patients,” the soft-spoken young girl explained this week.
“I got permission from the school to cut my hair short during the school holiday and then donated my ponytail for the same cause.
She said the first week of the second term started off smoothly in her new class and her classmates welcomed her.
On April 4, the protection order was issued by the court and she was confident it marked the beginning of a fresh start.
But that afternoon, at netball practice, things escalated and the girl has not been back to school since.
She said she was on the school field when a member of another team came up to her and said: “I heard you moved classes because you are transgender.”
Another netball player confirmed having heard the same rumour.
The mother said when she collected her daughter from netball later that afternoon, she broke down.
“She was rocking on the back seat of the car saying ‘they won’t do anything, they won’t help me’ while she cried hysterically.”
The girl was rushed to her doctor and was prescribed sedatives.
The girl said she was disappointed that the school had done nothing to protect her.
“I heard that Pearson was a good school and that’s why I chose to go there for my high school years . . . this makes no sense to me at all.
“This is not just about me anymore. I was just the eyeopener. I want my story and experience to protect other people.”
The girl, an academic with ambitions of becoming a vet for endangered animals, said her grades were slipping as she battled to concentrate in class.
Having now lost out on almost three weeks of school, she is drastically behind on her work.
“I am terrified of going back. I am scared someone will hurt me because I am a lesbian.
“I become anxious just thinking about school,” the petite teenager said.
The family’s lawyer, Dean Murray, said all South Africans had a constitutional right to a basic education.
“Being a government institution, this implies it being a safe place of learning, free of harassment and gender bias.
“What has been said to this young girl is tantamount to hate speech in that it expresses prejudice against a particular group,” Murray said.
“We do not believe that the sanction should be any different whether it is with regard to race, religion or sexual orientation.
“The family is saddened that it appears as though there is a discrimination between the sanction for racial discrimination as opposed to sexual orientation.
“There should be no difference as both constitute hate speech,” Murray said.
“Victims of harassment are offered protection by our courts and if one can approach the court for relief, this should be upheld in schools too.”
Cameron Cordell, of Nelson Mandela University’s Centre for Law in Action, said Pearson should offer a public statement assuring the public at large that it did not tolerate the denigration of LGBTQ pupils.
“For a start, discipline the bullies through exclusion.
“Send out a clear message that such conduct is not tolerated at school,” Cordell said.
“Parents, in particular, should be informed by the school that any harassment or abuse of LGBTQ students will result in a severe sanction.”
He said a programme around LGBTQ should form a mandatory part of a pupil’s education.
Redcliffe added that no young person at school should be discriminated against due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.“These pupils all live in a country that is fully protective of their human rights.“Schools should look at sensitising their teachers and learners,” Redcliffe said.“It all starts in the classroom – for example, we in the NGO sector do not know how a life orientation teacher will best deliver a message on sexuality and gender diversity.“So as much as the LGBTQ NGO sector is there to bridge the gap, it honestly takes a teacher to read more and learn more about these things. “Knowledge is power.”Redcliffe said schools should have a counsellor who knows almost everything about sexuality and gender identities.“Our youth are evolving fast, they are becoming aware at a very young age of who they are and how they can express themselves.“So teachers must adapt and change as the youth develop.“I am 100% sure this case is just the start and we will be seeing many more crop up in the near future.”