Heterosexism in schools in the South African context: queer teachers' school-based experiences
De Beer, Melissa
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Heteronormative socialisation processes, rooted in the deeply internalised cultural and religious values and beliefs of South Africans, have produced cultural heterosexism. Schools, as institutions that transmit governing societal values, reproduce such social ills, leaving its queer members inferior and oftentimes oppressed. Educational ideologies and policies in South Africa are reinforcing a hidden curriculum marked by compulsory heterosexuality that leaves queer schooling communities invisible, silenced, excluded, and marginalised. Unifying the terms queer and teacher may be a particularly difficult endeavour due to the in loco parentis role bestowed upon teachers in schools as custodial settings. Queer teachers reside in a challenging terrain due to inaccurately being mapped as having perverse intentions or promoting a gay agenda. Even though research on queer identities in South African schools is growing to address the silence, both international and national literature specifically focusing on queer teachers‘ school-based experiences remains scarce. This study followed a qualitative research methodology, with an Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (APA) research design. Social constructionism as the paradigmatic orientation and queer theory as the theoretical framework were chosen to complement Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as both the research design and method of data analysis. Purposive, snowball sampling was used to locate nine queer teachers who resided in either one of the following provinces: Limpopo, Gauteng or North West. The sample consisted of six cisgender women, one genderfluid person, and two cisgender men. From the six cisgender women, five identified as lesbian women and the remaining participant preferred self-identifying as a queer woman. The genderfluid person identified as asexual, while the remaining two men both identified as gay men. All participants were SACE-registered, full-time South African teachers between the ages of 22 and 65. Data were obtained through semi-structured interviews and IPA was used to identify themes for this study. Noteworthy superordinate themes were organised into the following categories: 1) perceptions of heteronormativity in schools, 2) experiences of discrimination, stigma and prejudice, and 3) queer teacher adjustments. Participants‘ perceptions were structured into the following subordinate themes: cultural heterosexism, internalised heterosexism, perceived factors related to school-based heterosexism, and religion-based heterosexism. Experiences of discrimination, stigma, and prejudice in schools were structured into the following subordinate themes: heteronormative assumptions, reverberations of school-based heterosexism, and psychological consequences. Finally, queer teacher adjustments were structured into the following subordinate themes: defence mechanisms, self-acceptance and social perspective taking, religiosity and/or spirituality as protective factors, queer consciousness and knowledge, queer teachers as unique role players in schools, and a psychological sense of community. This study serves as one of the first to focus specifically on queer teachers‘ school-based experiences in a South African context. Any individual who rejected heteronormative social ideals and was in some or other way negatively affected by it, was permitted to participate in this research. Apart from possible adverse experiences, teacher resistances, resilience, agency, and power were also considered. Through this study, the voicing of the nature of possible social injustices against such individuals could serve as predecessors for future social transformative studies.
- Health Sciences