Picture by Axel Schmidt/Reuters
Durban - EDUCATION MEC Kwazi Mshengu has called on schools and their governing bodies to refrain from discriminating against pupils based on their “individual circumstances”. He urged schools to be more sensitive to pupils’ social and emotional needs.

Mshengu was commenting after it emerged that Danville Park Girls’ High School in Durban North refused to allow permission to start a support group for pupils in the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) community.

“We are calling on schools and their governing bodies to refrain from discriminating against pupils based on their circumstances. This includes their political affiliation, religious beliefs or sexual orientation,” he said.

The issue was first highlighted by DA MPL Heinz de Boer, who issued a notice of motion inthe KwaZulu-Natal Legislature, saying the rights of LGBTQI individuals were enshrined in the Constitution.

“Many young gay school pupils face enormous social and emotional challenges within the public school system. We want to call upon the MEC to ensure that each KZN school governing body is sensitive to the needs of their LGBTQI pupils.

“They must not only protect pupils, but also support their efforts in establishing school LGBTQI support groups on par with any other school societies or groups,” De Boer said.

The Other Foundation, which advocates on behalf of the LGBTQI community, condemned the school for refusing to allow the formation of the group.

The foundation’s advocacy and campaign officer, Virginia Magwaza, said if the school ran other clubs, there was no need to discriminate against girls wanting to have a group of this nature.

“Pupils in this community are already facing a lot. They are facing rejection from other quarters of society and should at least have the support of their peers. This is a further isolation of a minority group,” she said.

Magwaza called on schools to meet with them and other like-minded organisations to work together to break misconceptions.

Chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal Parents Association Vee Gani said he understood the rationale behind the school’s refusal.

“This is not related to the curriculum. If we allow this group then where do we draw the line? Others will want to start support groups for other ventures that are not associated to the curriculum and the purpose of school.”

Gani said there were support groups available for the LGBTQI community that were equipped to give advice.

In a statement issued by Graham Wittstock, the chairperson of the school governing body, Danville said it recognised the importance of the safety and rights of each child as enshrined in the Constitution.

“We uphold the protection of these rights while at the same time considering both the diversity and individuality of a multi-faceted society. As we are dealing with minors, the voice of parents is acknowledged, valued and considered in matters concerning their daughter’s development,” Wittstock said.

The Mercury