Transgender pupil continues to face transphobia within school premises from his peers and without any assistance from the school
Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA) announces with great dismay that a transgender pupil from Pretoria,*Tshepo (not his real name) whose sexual harassment was brought forth in May 2011, has yet again been sexually harassed at school. He was singled out by his fellow pupils (and their older friends who are not pupils at the school) who tried to disrobe him, threatened him and posed uncomfortable questions which implied that Tshepo’s gender expression existed because he is afraid to sleep with men .Since the incident Tshepo has been absent from school as he feels that he is not safe, school is a place thought to be safe but in his case it has become a place of fear. Tshepo’s mother Kedibone claims that the school principal does not consider the seriousness of the matter and has not offered any aid for her child.
The series of events mentioned above occurred on the Pretoria Central High School premises ; one of the school’s key mission is to “promote values like mutual respect for one another’s right to religious conviction, expression and association” in this case the mission statement has not been upheld for Tshepo’s sake. The school’s vice-president is aware of the of the incident including the previous one, but yet when we asked for comment regarding the matter, He asked we direct all questions to the Department of Education.
This proves to us that the rights of this transgender pupil have been violated and his wellbeing has been placed at jeopardy. When He was referred to a psychologist at Kalafong Hospital by TIA in regards to his gender reassignment therapy, the Psychologist refused to assist Tshepo* because she felt that the need for his surgery was not a priority as compared to cancer patients and furthermore stated that Tshepo must accept that he has breasts and that whether or not he gets the surgery his gender will never change. The psychologist clearly lacks respect for transgender patients. This highlights the reality that gender reassignment therapy is not seen as priority in most health institutions, even when people seeking this important intervention in their lives continue to take their lives when denied access to it. Tshepo is one of the people who are currently suicidal because of prejudice and the failure by medical service providers to recognize the need for gender affirming services within healthcare facilities, in his note that he had left for his mother before attempting to overdose on pills he says” I feel so small. I just want to die and get over this.”
His mother Kedibone has been his pillar of strength although she knows she cannot change the perceptions of others, she stands firm in supporting her child through this.
Although South Africa is the most liberal country on the continent when it comes to LGBTI rights, traditional values still hold strong in rural areas and townships. This case highlights the multiple layers of oppression that transgender people in South Africa face, especially young black transgender people. The case indicates the violations that they have to overcome on a daily basis, schools are rarely safe places because of the transphobia from pupils and sometimes from teachers as well, this significantly contributes to the high levels of school dropout rates within the transgender community.
The case also shows that transgender healthcare is not prioritised in most of our healthcare facilities. It is disheartening to hear of health service providers that turn transgender patients away claiming that there are more “serious” cases that they have to concentrate on. Transphobia in healthcare is unhealthy.
After TIA contacted the school regarding this matter on the 9th June 2014, we received a call from the schools social worker to schedule a meeting with department of education along with the schools disciplinary committee. The meeting will be held at the Department of Education’s district offices on Wednesday, 11 June 2014
We urge The Department of Education to investigate the matter further and provide the much needed support to the pupil and his family. We cannot turn a blind eye while transgender people face discrimination, inequity and prejudice within our education institutions. We need to change the mind-sets of those who are meant to protect us, key role players such as the police, doctors, teachers and so forth.
For more information please contact
Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA)