A trans boy will be escorted to school by the South Africa human rights commission after the governing body refused to allow him to wear boy’s uniform.
SAHRC commissioner Chris Nissen confirmed to Sunday Times Daily he would accompany the 16-year-old to Strand High School (Hoërskool Strand) in the Western Cape when he returns to classes on 2 August.
Teachers had agreed to call the teen by his new name and allow him to use a separate teachers’ bathroom, but the governing body drew the line at clothing, forcing him to wear the girls’ green trousers rather than the boys’ grey ones.
“There’s no way I’m doing that; he’s going with a boys’ uniform,” said the boy’s mother, who was adamant her son shouldn’t be treated differently than any other pupils.
She wrote to the school on his behalf of the beginning of the year asking permission for the uniform change, but was denied “because someone else may also come with a similar request”.
“The governing body came back with the alternative saying he can wear the green pants instead of a dress,” she told the paper.
“[But] because of the colour of the pants, it stood out more. The boys wore the grey pants. He is being bullied about that by some girls and the boys say he is not a real boy.”
The SAHRC got involved after 26 LGBT+ and gender equality groups wrote an open letter to the Western Cape education department in protest, highlighting the continued LGBT+ discrimination in the region’s public and private schools.
Some of the 26 signatories to the document included the Triangle Project, Legal Resources Centre, Sexual & Reproductive Justice Coalition, Out, Matimba, Gender Dynamix and Women’s Legal Centre.
“These schools are violating the human rights of pupils, undermining their wellbeing and obstructing their education. LGBTQI+ pupils are experiencing many forms of bullying, harassment, abuse, discrimination and systemic violence in schools,” the letter states.
They were backed by an online petition which was reportedly signed by more than 12,600 people, calling on the school to allow the trans boy to wear his uniform of choice.
Trans boy is being ‘stigmatised’ by separate uniform
Nissen now intends to personally defend the boy’s right to wear boy’s trousers, saying Strand High School would have to tell him what law the pupil was breaking.
“If anybody obstructs us, we can call the police,” he said.
He condemned the decision to single out the trans boy, asking: “Why would you disagree with somebody’s [gender identity]? You want to stigmatise that person by putting them in a uniform so that person stands out and becomes the object of mockery.
“When you label people physically you are doing nothing else than what the Nazis did during the WWII when they put yellow for the Jews,” he continued.
“Every law, bylaw or regulation is subject to the constitution of this country. The school’s policies must adapt to the needs of the people.”
Western Cape education department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond confirmed that the school governing body had refused to allow the student to wear male uniform.
She said the department had received the open letter from local activists and was drafting a response; new guidelines on gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools in the Western Cape are expected to be released next week.
“No other guideline or policy exists that addresses gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools in SA,” she said, though some governing bodies had addressed the issue through their diversity and inclusivity policies.
“However, as a department we need to assist all schools in creating a more inclusive environment for all pupils, regardless of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation,” she admitted.