Gay rights in the classroom

28 October 2014 - 02:03 By Tanya Farber
LEVEL START: US ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard with University of the Western Cape rector Brian O'Connell at the graduation of students who passed the first African university course on sexual orientation
LEVEL START: US ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard with University of the Western Cape rector Brian O'Connell at the graduation of students who passed the first African university course on sexual orientation

Several South African women have been murdered for being lesbian, in most African countries you're a criminal if you're gay, and in Sudan and Mauritania you can be put to death for homosexuality.

The University of the Western Cape has just graduated its first students from the continent's first course on sexual orientation and the role of educators in dealing with sexual orientation issues in the classroom.

More than 135 students yesterday received certificates for passing the seven-week ground-breaking course.

The course is intended to "equip educators with attitudes and skills to help them respond in respectful and supportive ways to LGBTIQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning] matters that arise in the classroom."

James Lees, senior lecturer in the faculty of education and the HIV/ Aids programme at the university , said students and staff had together decided that a new course was needed to make section nine of the constitution "come alive" in schools.

The course runs for seven weeks.

The keynote speech at yesterday's graduation ceremony was given by the U S ambassador to South Africa, Patrick Gaspard, who said: "[There are frequent] media reports about the increased acceptance of gay marriage in some parts of the world, juxtaposed with the Draconian laws enacted in some countries, on every continent, aimed at punishing homosexuality."

Course content included footage of an interview with gay judge Edwin Cameron, and of interviews with 11 young women from the Triangle Project describingtheir experiences as LGBTIQ people to high school pupils.

One student, Kim Geduld, described the course as a "highlight" and said: "This has really opened my eyes about how to approach sexual diversity."

Another student, Jason du Plessis, said: "This course is absolutely necessary and should be offered at all universities, especially for those students pursuing a career in education because we are at the heart of making a difference where negative attitudes towards others are concerned."

Bernedette Muthien, director of gender rights group NGO Engender, said: "UWC should be lauded for its progressive stance."

She said South Africa's constitution guaranteed the rights of all, and that it was "our duty as active citizens" to ensure protection of those rights for all South Africans.

"This means we cannot pick which rights we prefer to protect. The same goes for compassion. This can't be allocated according to preference or fashion," Muthien said.

According to Amnesty International, same-sex relations are illegal in 36 of 55 countries in Africa, and are punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan and parts of Nigeria.

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