29 August 2022 – LRC statement on the deaths of three learners as a result of homophobic bullying

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29 August 2022

LRC statement on the deaths of three learners as a result of homophobic bullying

The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) is saddened by the recent deaths of three learners from around the country, all of whom were allegedly bullied because of their sexuality.

Lukhanyo Jongqo, (14) from Kubusie Combined School in Stutterheim, Eastern Cape and Tiro Moalusi (15) from PJ Simelane Secondary School in Soweto, Gauteng, died by suicide following alleged homophobic bullying by their teachers. Another learner, Mpho Falithenjwa (14) from Orange Farm in Johannesburg was subjected to discrimination and bullied for his sexuality. He also died by suicide in June this year.

These incidents underscore some of the barriers that LGBT learners encounter in schools across South Africa such as bullying and homophobia which they experience not only from their peers, but also from teachers who are meant to create an inclusive and safe learning environment for all children in their classrooms, irrespective of their sexuality or gender expression. Further, such incidents also highlight the need for the national Department of Basic Education to take steps to protect LGBT learners in our schools through. Whilst some provincial departments – such as the Western Cape Department of Education – have taken steps by drafting a gender identity and sexual orientation policy, more meaningful action is needed as the mere existence of progressive polices is insufficient. Such learners need a supportive and affirming learning environment in which their rights to dignity and education are respected.

Policies, at the end of the day, are implemented by employees of the Department of Basic Education, whether they be teachers, principals, teaching assistants and other staff members. Therefore, we risk seeing a repeat of these incidents if progressive policies and staff sensitisation are not implemented urgently and concurrently. The department, and by extension, Minister Motshega, must immediately:

  1. Order that investigations are launched in respect of the alleged homophobia experienced by Falithenjwa and Jongqo.
  2. Start collating data concerning the dropout rate of LGBT learners in our schools and identify the barriers which prevent them from fully enjoying their right to education.
  3. Devise a national gender identity and sexual orientation policy document which is binding on all public schools in South Africa, and will ensure that educational environments are not fertile ground for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and gender identity.

The LRC welcomes the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Moalusi by the Gauteng Department of Education and the South African Human Rights Commission.