Learner suicides: call for national LGBTIQ school policy


Fifteen-year-old LGBTIQ school learner Tiro Moalusi took his own life after being humiliated in class, allegedly by a teacher

The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) says the Department of Basic Education must implement a binding national policy to protect LGBTIQ school learners. The Johannesburg-based organisation is one of South Africa’s largest non-profit law clinics and promotes the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

The LRC made the call in response to the recent deaths of three LGBTIQ school learners from around the country, all of whom were allegedly bullied because of their sexuality.

Lukhanyo Jongqo, (14) from Kubusie Combined School in Stutterheim, Eastern Cape and Tiro Moalusi (15) from PJ Simelane Secondary School in Soweto, Gauteng, died by suicide following alleged homophobic bullying by their teachers.

Another learner, Mpho Falithenjwa (14) from Orange Farm in Johannesburg was subjected to discrimination and bullied for his sexuality. He also died by suicide in June this year.

“These incidents underscore some of the barriers that LGBT learners encounter in schools across South Africa such as bullying and homophobia which they experience not only from their peers but also from teachers who are meant to create an inclusive and safe learning environment for all children in their classrooms, irrespective of their sexuality or gender expression,” said the LRC.

The organisation believes the incidents highlight the need for the national Department of Basic Education to take steps to protect LGBTIQ learners in schools.

It noted that while some provincial departments – such as the Western Cape Department of Education – have taken steps by drafting a gender identity and sexual orientation policy, “more meaningful action is needed as the mere existence of progressive policies is insufficient”.

The LRC said policies have to be implemented by teachers, principals, teaching assistants and other staff members. “Therefore, we risk seeing a repeat of these incidents if progressive policies and staff sensitisation are not implemented urgently and concurrently.”

The Gauteng Department of Education and the South African Council for Educators have launched investigations into the circumstances of Moalusi’s suicide in the wake of widespread media coverage, but there have been no known developments in connection to the other two deaths.

The organisation said the department, and by extension Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, should take three steps to start to address the crisis.

  • Order investigations into alleged homophobia experienced by Falithenjwa and Jongqo.
  • Start collating data about the dropout rate of LGBTIQ school learners and identify barriers that “prevent them from fully enjoying their right to education”.
  • Devise a national gender identity and sexual orientation policy document that will be binding on all public schools in South Africa “to ensure that educational environments are not fertile ground for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Late last month, 24 civil society groups also issued an open letter to Minister Motshekga demanding safe schools for queer youth. Neither the minister nor the department has responded to the letter.

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