Joburg school tells trans pupil she doesn’t have the ‘right body parts’ to be a woman

“I was told by an educator that I didn’t qualify to partake in my school’s Women’s Day event due to the fact that I am ‘not a female’ and do not have the suitable body parts to identify myself as one,” said 16-year-old transgender pupil, *Khwezi, from Hoerskool Die Burger in Johannesburg.

Khwezi recounted the alleged discrimination she faced from a teacher at a Woman’s Day function that took place last week Wednesday, 8 August. “All female learners were required to purchase tickets in order to attend this function at the school hall. As a woman, I was willing to pay the set amount to join and be part of the function,” she told Mambaonline.

Khwezi claims, however, that when she was about to pay, the teacher told her that she did not have the correct “female body parts” to participate. “I was crushed by the words,” Khwezi said, adding that she was not allowed to take part in the event alongside the other female pupils.

“On the day of the event, when it was time for the female learners to assemble at the hall to go to the function, I unfortunately had to part ways with my female friends. It wasn’t easy for me as an individual to be hushed away from the hall doors by educators.”

While the event was taking place, all ‘male’ learners were escorted to the field. “I unfortunately had to follow due to the fact that there were male educators escorting us and making sure nobody breaks away. This wasn’t easy for me because I have no male friends [and don’t] even share a relationship with the majority of them due to their childish mindset on understanding my gender,” Khwezi said.

Khwezi alleged she had to then sit alone for the duration of the event. She didn’t report the episode to the school because of, what she claims, is its negative attitude towards the LGBTI community.

Khwezi’s mother said she was shocked by the incident and hopes something will be done about it. Barnie Lotter, the school’s principal, told Mambaonline that he was not aware of what happened and urged the student to come forward and speak to him.

“This was totally wrong and we would like to apologise to the student,” he said. Lotter insisted that the school treats all its pupils equally and does not discriminate based on gender and sexual orientation.

Nkosana Mnisi, from the Gauteng Department of Education, said that students who are discriminated against because of their gender or sexual orientation should first report the matter to their school principals, teachers or someone who they trust. “If nothing is done about the case then one can take it up either with the district office or even head office so that we can investigate. The thing is, the department would like these cases to be dealt with urgently for the learner to focus on his/her school work. So as long as the school was first informed, one can take it up with any of us.”

According to Mnisi, the department has begun advocacy campaigns to raise awareness among school communities on issues affecting LGBTI people. “We started [by] responding to cases which are reported to us by a school, and the approach is that we then target the whole school and take it through issues of the rights to all learners to be treated humanely and with the necessary respect as covered in the Constitution of RSA,” said Mnisi in an email to Mambaonline.

“Secondly, our new policy on HIV, STIs and TB is very clear on the rights of all learners including LGBTIs in all government institutions – because you will understand that these issues do not only affect learners but all stakeholders in schools, including educators. We have started advocacy campaigns to all our 15 districts on all these issues (as a package) as covered within our policy and last year, we reached 4,500 stakeholders in the whole of Gauteng and we hope to each the same number this financial year,” Mnisi explained.

Last week, Mambaonline reported on a story of a Durban pupil who hanged himself after his principal allegedly called him gay. According to a 2016 Love Not Hate report, 56% of LGBT South Africans surveyed said they’d experienced discrimination based on their LGBT status at school.

*Khwezi is not the student’s real name.

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