Rainbow pride flag waving in the wind

Queer & Student

As a queer student in primary or secondary school, you already have enough to deal with in terms of understanding your own identity, resisting the pressures of society, and dealing with the harassment of school bullies. This is all more than enough without adding to it an education that is designed to isolate LGBTQ+ students, and teachers that pressure them to conform. Unfortunately, this is exactly what many students across the world have to deal with every day.

South Africa

Although South Africa’s constitution explicitly protects against discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, these protections are not described in a way that makes them easily applicable to education. Even in 2023, state school curriculums, even for classes like Life Orientation, are not mandated to include discussions of diverse genders and sexualities, and so many do not. The situation is even more bleak in township schools, where school officials fear upsetting parents and communities overall. On top of all this, conservative groups are challenging any and all attempts at a comprehensive sexual-education curriculum, some of which have extensive ties to the U.S. from which they model their initiatives:

  • Freedom of Religion South Africa
  • SAOU (a conservative teacher’s union)
  • Family Policy Institute
  • United States

    In the past few decades, the U.S. has seen various pieces of legislation in support of queer folks as a whole. In June of 2006, the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas officially repealed sodomy laws in the U.S., decriminalizing homosexuality at the federal level for the first time. In 2015, we saw the court case of Obergefell v. Hodges which legalized same-sex marriage at the federal level. However, this slow but steady improvement has taken a turn for the worst in the past several years, specifically in the area of education. Just a little over a month into the 2023 legislative session, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is already tracking more than 300 anti-queer bills like the following:

  • SB 141 (Georgia): requires school nurses to alert a student’s parent(s) if the student expresses gender dysphoria.
  • A 630 (New Jersey): requires school sports teams to be categorized by biological sex, and student athletes whose “sex is disputed” to provide a doctor’s note establishing their sex on the basis of genitalia, testosterone levels, and genetic makeup.
  • SB 1001 (Arizona): states that school officials may not address a student by their preferred pronouns if those pronouns differ from those associated with the student’s biological sex, without written consent from the parent.
  • Comparison

    Let's explore what connects us:

  • Constitutional Protections: South Africa is more inclusive than the U.S. because it included protections from discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity from its creation. Legal protections against discrimination based on these characteristics was not established in the U.S. until June of 2020, when the Supreme Court ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity were to be considered part of discrimination based on "sex", which is protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • School Curriculums: at this moment in time, both the U.S. and South Africa are seeing major opposition to proposals for a more comprehensive sexual education curriculum which includes topics of gender identity and sexual orientation. This opposition comes from far-right groups in both countries, who make claims under the guise of 'freedom of religion', 'parental rights', and 'family values'. In the U.S. this means a shocking number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills being proposed to ensure that these topics are not taught. In South Africa, this means there has been little to no effort to establish such a curricula in the majority of the country.