EDITORIAL | Schools must be safe for all pupils

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Despite the considerable gains we have made when it comes to fighting discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, South Africa remains a country with a troubling undercurrent of homophobia.
Today we report on a lesbian teenager who is too scared to return to school because of the incessant bullying and harassment she has suffered at the hands of fellow pupils – this despite a protection order.
The girl is in grade 8 at Pearson High School and says she is too fearful to use the school bathrooms in case someone tries to harm her.
The rights of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer) people are sanctioned in our constitution and no school can continue to remain ignorant of or conveniently oblivious to these rights.All schools should have policies and proactive programmes in place to help protect LGBTQ pupils from being harassed.To schools, we say: if pupils report they are being targeted in this way you have the responsibility to act. Listen to their concerns and set about addressing these. Don’t fob them off or tell them they need to toughen up. Take action against the culprits.Our schools need to keep pace with the constitution. Parents and principals must set their own biases aside and actively start building inclusive and accepting classrooms.We cannot have schools where the institutional culture is that which discriminates against those who are deemed different from the norm.The beauty of our country is in the respect of our diversity as expressed in our constitution.This and only this should define our institutional norms.

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