The Department of Education in the Eastern Cape has been slammed for risking the safety of LGBTI pupils by apparently planning to list them in a database.
City Press reported that an email was sent by the department’s Special Programmes Unit (SPU) to principals in the province on 16 October.
The email advised that the SPU planned to conduct a workshop on 30 October to “raise awareness on the rights of the LGBTI community and to ensure that their lives, morals and integrity are respected.”
The principals were asked to “forward names of learners in your school that belongs to this community by end of business today.”
The email explained that, “This will allow the district office to have a database of these learners and 10 of these learners will be attending the scheduled workshop.”
While seemingly well intentioned, the idea of compiling a database of LGBTI pupils was harshly criticised by DA provincial education spokesperson, Edmund van Vuuren.
“This is irregular, irresponsible and unconstitutional,” said Van Vuuren in a statement on Facebook. “The creation of a database of learners belonging to the LGBTI community is an infringement on the privacy of… these learners and, in the wrong hands, could very easily result in physical harm.”
Van Vuuren noted that the DA had no problem with the idea of “the holding of the workshop for advocacy purposes, for others to have a better understanding of the diverse nature of lifestyles amongst us, and how best to deal with it.”
He said, “while South Africa has come a long way with LGBTI rights, more needs to be done to create safe and non-discriminative environments, at work, at school, at home, and in at-risk communities across the African continent.”
However, Van Vuuren argued, “In a climate where ‘corrective rape’ and assault based on sexual preference is commonplace, we cannot afford to expose members of this community to further risk and discrimination.”
According to City Press, the day after Van Vuuren wrote to the head of the SPU about the issue, another email was sent to principals informing them that the SPU “has since decided to not involve learners for this workshop due to exams.”
Department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima defended the aims of the LGBTI workshop to the newspaper but denied that there was any plan to compile an LGBTI database.
He further distanced the department from the “alleged” email and insisted that the communication had “not been sanctioned by those concerned and the SPU office.” Mtima said an internal investigation would get to the source of the email, “which distorted the activities and objectives of the department’s programmes.”
It is unclear if the workshop went ahead as planned.