The Department of Basic Education and the Western Cape Education Department recently made the groundbreaking decision of allowing transgender learners attending schools in the Western Cape to wear the uniform that matches their gender identity.
While the issue of transgender rights certainly doesn’t receive the same attention locally as it does in the US – where bathroom bills are constantly a part of the political agenda on the Republican and Democratic sides of the governmental aisle – it is heartening to see the attention being drawn to the wellbeing of children who identify as transgender (although one hopes the decision is quickly emulated by the Departments of Education in the other eight provinces in South Africa).
Even if they consider the decision that the Western Cape Education Department has made as a good one, many people might regard it as letting the focus fall on what they might view as a bit of a non-issue, considering the lack of political gravitas the issue receives on the home turf.
With that being said, there are plenty of reasons why supporting all trans people is important. And especially if the trans people involved are minors, they should be supported from the very upper echelons of government. Here’s why.
It’s a human rights issue
There isn’t significant debate in South Africa around allowing trans people to use public bathrooms that match the gender they identify with, but this might change if something as basic as allowing trans students to wear a school uniform that matches their gender identity doesn’t happen.
Presenting in a way that does not contradict one’s gender identity is the first step in normalising the presence of trans people in the real world, and allowing kids to present themselves as the gender they identify with will rule out a lot of confusion and uncertainty from their peers when it comes to things like using the bathroom.
Trans rights are human rights, and sorting out the basics when children are still young and only just becoming aware of things like trans identities, lays the foundation for preventing a lot of bullying and even violence towards sexual minorities later in life. In essence, what seems like something quite small has the power to reinforce a positive attitude towards trans people, as well as other members of the LGBTQI+ community at a very young age. More allies means less complaisance and apathy about violence and injustice towards minorities in general, which is something that the world certainly needs now, more than ever.
The genitalia of children concerns nobody but the children themselves
Look, the genitalia that are covered by one’s underwear are nobody’s damn business, much less so when the person in question is a child. Taking a stand for trans rights and the rights of trans kids goes far beyond what gender they were born as, and what supposedly makes a person male or female.
— aj (@ajlarsenn) February 23, 2017
When we are overly concerned with what is going on in someone’s pants, it says far more about us than it says about them – and nobody wants to be perceived as someone who is overly concerned with the genitals of children.
Schools should be places of safety for kids
According to a booklet that is currently being circulated to provide guidelines to teachers, school governing body members and learners, titled “Challenging Homophobic Bullying in Schools”, homophobic (and, presumably, also transphobic) bullying has a definite effect on the performance of learners who are subjected to it. Children who experience bullying of this kind may:
• Have higher levels of absenteeism and truancy and be less likely to enter higher/further education
• Be more likely to contemplate self-harm/suicide and have low self-esteem
• Show signs of physical ill health
• Underachieve academically or leave school early
• Engage in risk-taking behaviours, such as unprotected sex
If children are not protected and empowered in their schools, this could have a detrimental effect on their mental health in general – the high suicide rate among trans people is well known.
When children are encouraged to support their peers and stand up for them, a new generation of human rights heroes is cultivated, but that support should also be a hallmark of society in general if we want it to filter through to our children.
Supporting trans kids is supporting children in general. It has become a cliché that goes over our heads the moment we hear it, but our children are the future of society, and encouraging them to be what they want to be shouldn’t be a comment reserved for kids that identify as cisgender and heterosexual.