A Cape Town high school faces a backlash over a decision to ban pupils from showing solidarity withlesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgenderpeople.
A group of pupils at DF Malan High School in Bellville were verbally abused last week when they gathered during break to mark the first week of International Pride Month.
When the pupils reported the abuse to the headmaster, they were told not to repeat any provocative behaviour, and all further pride action was banned.
The incident prompted condemnation on Thursday from Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schäfer, who confirmed an investigation was under way “to establish the full facts of the matter”.
She added: “I am deeply concerned by the allegations of discrimination against LGBTQI+ learners at DF Malan High School, which we were alerted to yesterday.”
She said: “Such behaviour has absolutely no place in our schools. We will work with the school to ensure that such incidents are not repeated in future. The WCED is committed to ensuring that our schools are inclusive spaces, where values of equality and non-discrimination are upheld. We expect our schools to take active steps to promote such an environment.”
The incident has also prompted outrage on social media and a petition in support of the pride pupils.
A parent of one of the affected pupils also spoke out this week, slamming the school for targeting the pride pupils rather than those who targeted them.
“Instead of disciplining homophobic students, the school management was implicitly condoning homophobic views by banning pro-pride sentiments. There needs to be a programme to educate people, to bring this out into the open,” said the parent, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of inviting further verbal abuse of his child.
The pride pupils were reportedly surrounded while sitting together on the school grounds, some of them wearing pro-pride badges. They had previously been denied permission to organise an ‘official’ pride event.
“Instead of being greeted with understanding and treated with respect, they were subject to hate speech by queerphobic students and staff,” said a statement attached to an online petition in support of the pride pupils at the school.
“The group of LGBTQ+ students were surrounded, threatened and intimidated till the end of break.
“As a government school, DF Malan High School’s responsibility is to ensure that all their students feel safe and included to generate a successful learning environment.
“The fact that no action has been taken against the queerphobic students, and the LGBTQ+ students have been blamed for the hate speech against them, is a violation of constitutional rights.
“We are calling on DF Malan High School to give a public apology for silencing the queer community in their school.”
A statement on the school website said the headmaster and governing body denied the request for an official pride event to prevent a potential confrontation of the kind that transpired when the pupils went ahead with their informal event.
“The school regrets the incident and we realise that we need to work harder to create mutual respect among ourselves,” the statement said.
Commenting on the petition website, a former pupil said the school’s decision to keep its name — that of a former apartheid prime minister — was testimony to the broader issue of intolerance at the institution.
“As a queer person and DF Malan alumni, I have first hand experience regarding the egregious acts of homophobia experienced by LGBTQ+ pupils,” said the former pupil.
“DF Malan has failed to promote equality for many years (exhibit A: the school’s name) and it’s high time something gets done.”