Exploring education-related sexual equality experiences of LGBQ+ students: an education law perspective
The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996) encompasses democratic values which guide and strengthen the claim to an "open and democratic society" (1996:Preamble). One of the democratic values is equality which also forms part of one of the human rights within the Bill of Rights (1996:sec.9). The right to equality contains prohibited grounds concerning unfair discrimination, one of which is sexual orientation (1996:sec.9(3)). This study thus focuses on sexual equality (sexual minorities' right to equality) and more specifically how LGBQ+ learners experience sexual equality within the education system. Justice Sachs indicated in the Constitutional Court case National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and Others v Minister of Home Affairs and Others (2000:par.109) that… [w]hen everything associated with homosexuality is treated as bent, queer, repugnant or comical; the equality interest is directly engaged. People are subject to extensive prejudice because of what they are or what they are perceived to be, not because of what they do. The result is that a significant group of the population, because of its sexual non-conformity, is persecuted, marginalised and turned in on itself. The Constitutional Court stipulated in the Coalition case (2000) that the marginalisation of LGBQ+ people within society, laws and policies prevents these sexual minorities from fully enjoying their right to equality and a just society. This study explores the lived experiences of LGBQ+ students when they were at school and how their experiences could inform determinants for sexual equality within the education system of South Africa. It also explores possible guidelines derived from LGBQ+ students' lived experiences which could inform teacher education programmes. A literature review was undertaken in two ways: (1) theoretical perspectives were presented and (2) a basic legal framework was indicated. The theoretical perspectives dealt with critical theories which could assist in developing determinants for sexual equality in teacher programmes, whereas the purpose of the basic legal framework was firstly to look at how rights within the Bill of Rights should be applied and interpreted and, secondly, at what the right to equality, and specifically sexual equality, entails for and within the South African education system. An empirical study explored the lived experiences of LGBQ+ students when they were at school and the (non)realisation of their rights to sexual equality at that time. This study also asked LGBQ+ participants to provide possible guidelines for teacher education programmes which could inform the promotion of sexual equality within education. The empirical study was done via online questionnaires on SurveyMonkey at two universities. Peer review, rich descriptions and reflexivity were used to ensure the trustworthiness of the empirical data. The study showed that the South African school system still struggles to provide sexual equality for all learners and that the heteronormative assumptions within society are clearly internalised by role-players within the school system. This, however, was not the experience of all the participants. Some participants reported that their peers, teachers and parents were supportive of their sexual orientation identities and that this enabled them to have positive experiences of sexual equality which increased their willingness to participate in school and to reach their full potential. The LGBQ+ participants within this study emphasised that the sexual equality within a school system could have an immense influence on learners' participation and learning experiences within schools. The guidelines, derived from the lived experiences of the LGBQ+ participants, mostly consisted of the notion that student teachers and teachers lack knowledge regarding psychology and that it is important to them that sexuality is not dismissed within schools as a 'taboo' topic, but that teachers should rather educate learners regarding different types of sexual orientation (gender types were also mentioned). The overall guidelines suggested that creating an environment which provides for critical dialogue regarding topics of sexual orientation could create an environment of awareness and acceptance. The participants of this study emphasised that merely dismissing sexual equality strengthens sexual inequality because it does not address the heteronormative assumptions of society, nor does it acknowledge the violence that accompanies heteronormativity.
- Education