St Stithians Girls’ College, a leading private Methodist school in Johannesburg, says it is welcoming a transgender student, despite some strident opposition.
In a sensitive and progressive letter sent to the school’s parents and students on Wednesday, College Head Dr Sally James confirmed that “at the beginning of next term, we welcome a transgender girl student to the Girls’ College.”
“I have been journeying with this student and her parents, as well as a comprehensive support team (both in house and external) over a number of months in order to prepare for her enrolment at our school. The family has a long history with St Stithians and are strong supporters of our College ethos and are firm in their desire to be a part of our College community,” said James.
She revealed that the school has run several workshops and seminars with staff “to ensure they are equipped with knowledge, understanding and importantly compassion as we continue on this journey in our College.”
James wrote: “As humans, our ultimate goal is to be happy, authentic and productive members of society who should not be penalised for being oneself, no matter what that may be, racially, gender-wise or culturally.”
She went on to spell out how the new learner would be welcomed, addressing various elements of school life.
When it comes to the religious aspect of the school, James said: “Being a Christian Methodist school, we believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and should be free to live a life of dignity consistently with their sexuality and gender identity without fear or judgement.”
She noted that the school had the support the Council Church Committee, the School Chaplains and the Bishop within the Central Synod, Faith Whitby. “We are uncompromising on this. Individuals’ right to live a life of dignity and safety is not a matter of opinion,” said James.
Under the guidance of Superintendent Chaplain Reverend Madika Sibeko, the school chaplains will host “Christian parent discussion circles on the topic of LGBTQIA+ matters and Christian religion (and other Abrahamic religions).”
As for the issue of bathroom use, James pointed out that the college has gender-neutral bathroom facilities “that all students should feel safe and comfortable using” and that there is a neutral set of private toilets and shower facilities at the sports pavilion.
Concerning school trips and tours, James said that “transgender members of the Girls’ College community will be treated as any other student would.”
She also explained that “In the case of bathrooms, locker rooms, and trips and tours, it is behaviour, not gender identity, that would be grounds for removing someone from a space. If a transgender student is simply going about their activities, they have the right to be in the best-fit accommodation for them, just like a cisgender (non-trans) student.”
James noted that the school had worked with Matimba, an organisation that supports young people who are transgender and gender variant, and a leading counselling psychologist on gender matters.
She asserted that the college is “firm in our commitment to remain an inclusive and welcoming learning environment for all, regardless of one’s race, sexual orientation, gender, culture and/or religious affiliation. We recognise that many LGBTQIA+ people face significant discrimination, rejection, and hatred and are the most vulnerable individuals within our community.”
She urged students and parents to “join together on this journey with a growth mindset and with a commitment to being less judgemental, and rather being open to learning and affirming of individual uniqueness”.
James added that “we owe our children the value of seeing difference not as a threat to be resisted, but as an invitation to explore and understand, expanding their capacity for citizenship and cultivating a humanity that inspires curiosity and is ambitious in making a world of difference.”
The college head concluded the circular with resources and support contacts for parents to find out more about matters related to gender identity.
The letter was circulated on Twitter, with some transphobically lashing out at the school’s inclusive stance; accusing it of “child abuse”, choosing “wokeness over women”, and “letting people walk down a path of delusion”.
One person, Lady Vaxx-a-lot, argued that the school should not have made the girl’s enrolment public so as to protect the student. “You put a target on this child’s back by announcing their enrolment. It really wasn’t necessary. The [school’s] parents are viciously transphobic. I hope you have a safety plan for this child.”
Andy Hadfield was supportive of the school: “I think @ststithians is brave & progressive. I’ve had a glimpse at the level of psychological support/infrastructure that the school has – this decision was not taken lightly – and she must been through the [wringer] to get to this point. Brave. And perhaps, about time.”
Gillian Rightford added: “I say well done to the school and the parents for navigating this path with sensitivity and empathy and best of luck to the young lady.”
MambaOnline was unable to make contact with the school, presumably due to the Easter long weekend.