Let me tell you about the time I was sacked as a student teacher from a private Christian school – just for being gay.
Although South Africa is still an emerging nation, it is very developed in many areas – such as transport or our sophisticated constitution. But we are lacking in a number of aspects such as education, and with a nation battling with extreme inequalities ranging from income disparities and even social issues – education then becomes important for striving for the rainbow nation Mandela envisioned.
I have been on hiatus from writing for Vada for some time, mainly due to the fact that I have been focusing on my studies in the field of teaching. In May, I needed to complete a period of teaching experience, so I was placed in a private Christian school (the name won’t be mentioned, mainly in the interests of my career). At first I was surprised at being placed in such a school, but I soon came to see it as a great opportunity to see how well our private schools are run in comparison to state schools.
The first day at my post threw me into the deep end, especially because of the lack of any religious affiliation on my part – and the learning I’d have to do to get up to speed. Ranging from worship class, daily masses and even praying/devotions in the staffroom, it was something I thought I could handle. I have always tried to find the value in religion – such as the good it can do for self-development.
Things turned for the worse, however, when one of the deputies at the school found out I was gay, and decided to do a little digging into my background. I set all my social media accounts to maximum privacy, to ensure that snooping students won’t find me, and I like to keep my professional life away from my profiles. The deputy found a tweet which, to this day, he refuses to explain how he obtained. The tweet said something along the lines of: ‘If two men loving men is unnatural, then so is Jesus walking on water.’
The deputy then went on to find a photo (that is not even me, and of which I have no knowledge) and said that it was a nude photo of me. I was called out in the staff room and ultimately had a meeting in which the school decided I needed to leave the premises immediately. They even had the audacity to claim, ‘It’s not because of your choice of lifestyle we are doing this.’
Now you may be asking yourself, what is the point that I am trying to make? And that point is simple under the very basis of the law and my dignity.
Firstly, I felt as if it was a personal witch hunt against me. Even the university was contacted for my apparent behaviour, and because the school terminated my post I could have been held back or failed.
Secondly, the school seems to me to have circumvented the basic laws afforded by the constitution of South Africa, such as the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and non-discrimination on the basis of race or sexuality.
Lastly, the things they told my fellow student teachers at the school infringed upon my privacy. What was said in a meeting in a private capacity ended up being a topic of discussion among the other staff at the school.
The private school has been able to ignore the laws which dictate school policy. The school in its entirety thinks that because it does not form part of the government institution of the education system that it is able to do what it wants, when it wants. This is just a prime example of what South African gays go through. The freedoms that gays in South Africa enjoy do go against the will of the majority. But that is no excuse to mistreat people who are seen as ‘different’ because they are not Christian or because of their sexuality.
I sought to take this further, but because of how small the education community is – such as principals knowing each other and teachers between schools talking – they can continue to do the same thing over and over again. But that will not muffle my voice, or my cries for change – I demand fairness in all areas of the education system.
I also fear for the LGBT+ kids in the school – I saw there are a number, who were Christian and even Muslim, and who may find the school’s interpretation of ‘faith’ at odds with their innermost selves. These children’s freedoms are being impinged upon by what the school dictates as right according to the ‘Word of God’. The school’s behaviour is not conducive to a safe environment for these kids – who may be stigmatised and ultimately prevented from learning.
But what can we do – especially me? I will seek to work within the education system to change these injustices. I will seek to work within education policy to make sure these schools are held accountable.
Maybe one day, the Rainbow Nation envisioned by Mandela can come true. All it takes is action.