Durban -Trainee teachers needed to be taught about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) identities and challenges in the classroom so that discrimination and prejudice at schools could be rooted out.

This was the recommendation from researchers at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who have been awarded a US grant to sensitise teachers and trainee teachers on sexual orientation and diversity.

Homophobia was “rampant” in South African schools, where peers and teachers were persecutors, according to several studies, said the researchers,

Professor Cheryl Potgieter, Thabo Msibi and Finn Reygan.

They were speaking at the release of their curriculum development project in Durban on Friday.

While schools were often seen as sites of support, care and assistance, the reality was different for LGBTI pupils, said Potgieter, who is also the deputy vice-chancellor and head of the college of humanities at UKZN.

Compounding the problem was that subjects such as life orientation (LO), which were designed to include lessons on sexual diversity, did not do so in affirming ways.

Potgieter and the project’s co-principal investigators, Msibi and Reygan, said they were concerned that teachers received very little, if any, training on issues of sexual diversity at university, which left them poorly prepared when these issues arose at their schools.

An outcome of the UKZN project, in which more than 800 teachers and student teachers participated, was a 30-page resource book to aid the teaching of sexual orientation and diversity to university students studying education.

“We have recommended that the training module be provided, not just to LO trainer teachers, but to trainee teachers across all subject areas.

“Academic staff in schools of education (universities) should be adequately trained in advance on the issues contained in the training module,” Potgieter said.

The resource book that she, Msibi and Reygan developed explains how the book should be used and who its target audience is.

It contains four detailed lessons for education lecturers.

In earlier studies, which the three academics cited, teachers admitted to refusing to deliver lessons on sexual orientation and diversity because they believed that being gay was wrong, and because they were fearful of how principals and parents would react.

US Consul-General Taylor Ruggles said there was growing consensus the world over that mainstreaming gender identity education at schools was a key part of the struggle for equal rights.

“Schools are critical to changing public opinion about human rights and values,” Ruggles said, adding that California became the first state in the US in 2011 to mandate that primary and high school curricula teach children about the role and contributions of gay American historical figures.

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The Mercury