Position Paper: Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Related Issues in Schools


In recent years, schools have faced growing demands from transgender learners to be recognised and accommodated on the basis of the gender with which they identify, rather than their biological sex.

This has created an unprecedented challenge for schools, who are battling to forge policy in this unchartered territory.

The DA recognises that the years spent in school are formative for children in the development of a sense of self and ideas of the world they live in. We seek to ensure that schools facilitate this process in a secure and mutually respectful context.

While we believe that these policy responses should ideally be left to school communities and governing bodies to provide the specific response, we are also aware that schools are increasingly seeking guidance from education departments on how to deal with these issues.

In whichever way a school arrives at a policy on these sensitive issues, the process must be transparent and allow for consultation with relevant stakeholders.

A school’s policies, procedures, and institutional culture must provide protection and recourse against discrimination, on all grounds stipulated in the constitution. A student should not by virtue of their gender identity or sexual orientation, or any other constitutionally protected ground, be treated better or worse than any other student. In a healthy school environment, it should not be necessary to disclose or discuss one’s gender identity or sexual orientation to receive an equal education or equal treatment.

Because of the prominence of this issue in some schools, and the fact that it is causing a great deal of tension and confusion in institutions across the country, the DA is considering and responding to this matter. We do so in the form of these recommendations.

The DA is committed to protecting the human rights of all people, including the LGBTQI+ community, and advancing policies which give effect to the protection of these rights. In seeking to create a fair society, our approach is to encourage the fair treatment of all individuals regardless of the group identity they assume or choose.

We are also aware that policies in attempt to advance the rights of some, may inadvertently impinge on, or even violate, the rights of others. It is clear therefore, that all need to be open to reasonable compromises.

In addressing this issue, the DA distinguishes between biological sex, on the one hand, and gender identity on the other.

The DA formulates policy on the basis of evidence. The scientific evidence demonstrates that there is an empirical biological difference between the sexes. Biological sex exists, and the binary biological difference between males and females is determined by the gametes they produce. In males, it is smaller gametes (sperm); in women it is larger gametes (eggs). Humans (as all mammals) cannot reproduce without a combination of the male and female gametes. On this basis the DA accepts that two biological sexes exist, even if there is a continuum.

The DA recognises too that individuals sometimes identify with a gender that differs from their biological sex. Transgender people have rights, and the DA seeks to respect these without impinging on the rights of others.

Similarly, people whose gender identity corresponds with their biological sex, also have rights, and sometimes these may clash with the rights of transgender people. That there may be conflicting rights is not unusual and occurs even when individuals share the same gender and/or sex.

It is often difficult to find a balance between these conflicting rights. Nowhere is this a more sensitive issue, in our schools, than in the use of bathrooms.

Although this is one of the more topical policy areas dealing with transgender rights in schools, it is only one of the conundrums facing schools. This document seeks to address these inter-related issues.

Key Recommendations for Schools


Transgender people do not wish to face a dilemma when they need to use a bathroom, and choose to use the facilities assigned to the gender with which they identify. The policy solution to this, in many cases, has been to adopt a unisex bathroom policy.

This is, however, highly controversial, particularly in a school context, where many regard the introduction of unisex bathrooms as opening risks and discomforts for adolescents that would not arise in the use of conventional, single sex facilities.

In short, many parents and learners believe that the use of unisex bathrooms in schools will have unintended consequences. One of the most frequently cited unintended consequences is that many adolescent girls would face a heightened sense of risk, fear, and discomfort in sharing facilities with adolescent boys and even potentially with adult men (in the case of high schools). The same could well be said for many adolescent boys.

These concerns, equally, have to be taken seriously.

The DA therefore holds the view that communal facilities, such as toilets with internal cubicle-divisions, and changing rooms in schools, should be segregated on the basis of biological sex. Girls and boys should not be required to share such bathrooms with members of the opposite sex.

However, wherever possible, schools should make provision for additional unisex, “single use” bathroom facilities, for the use of students who prefer this option. A single use toilet facility differs from a communal facility, in that it is a “stand alone” room, that does not incorporate internally divided cubicles in a larger bathroom.

It is also essential for schools to ensure that learners do not face pressure or social stigma on the basis of their choice of either single sex or unisex facilities. Gender identity and the use of bathrooms is an issue for individuals to determine for themselves.

School Uniforms

Prescribed school uniforms have formed part of the tradition of many South African schools. The constitutional dispensation has opened the way for much debate on the role that school uniforms have in giving effect to, or infringing upon, the right to education, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to equality. Other crucial considerations when discussing school uniforms include functionality, economic factors, safety, and their social benefits such as creating a sense of belonging and a school culture regardless of the socioeconomic status of the learner.1

1 Wilken, I, and Van Aardt. A., (2012): “School Uniforms: Tradition, Benefit or Predicament?” Education as change 16.1 159–184

On balance, in considering these factors, the DA’s position is that where there is a school uniform in place there should be an option without a sex/gender prescription, i.e., there should be a uniform option included in the school uniform requirements that can be worn by all students. There are other reasons such as comfort, security, and ease of movement etc., for why female students, for example, may wish to wear track suits or trousers. These reasons may not relate to gender identity or sexual orientation.


In boarding schools, and on school and sports tours accommodation becomes an issue. Due to the numerous configurations which accommodation arrangements can take (different rooms, floors, buildings and supervised or unsupervised etc.) a general principle is recommended: that no student be forced to share accommodation with the opposite sex, unsupervised. And in general, regardless of sex or gender, that schools do their best, and within reason, to find alternative accommodation for students who feel unsafe or uncomfortable in a living/sleeping arrangement.

Admission policy

In respect of the admission policy, the current status quo articulated in section 5(5) of the South African School’s Act, 1996 that the governing body determine the admission policy, should remain. The admission policy must be consistent with constitutional provisions. Single sex admission policies are by nature discriminatory to a degree commensurate with other admission criteria, but they do not amount to unfair discrimination. In particular, such policies do not discriminate against transgender students as there likely have been, and are, transgender students in single sex schools.

Curriculum and Teacher Training

Where sexual orientation, gender identity, and related issues are included in the curriculum, then a well-considered age-appropriate curriculum, typically within Life Orientation, that is evidence-based, presents differing views, and allows for debate, scrutiny, and critical thinking should be taught as would be the case for any subject. This includes other sensitive subjects which touch on identity issues such as religion and culture.

This curriculum, like all others, must be available to all parents and the school governing body.


Discrimination in respect of male and female sport is not unfair as it is largely a distinction based on the biological and physiological differences that generally, though not in all people, distinguish males and females2. Schools may also choose to be guided by the codes of the professional association/sporting federation related to each sport.

2 Council of Europe (2014). “The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention)”. [Online]. Available at: https://www.coe.int/en/web/gender-matters/council-ofeurope-convention-on-preventing-and-combating-violence-against-women-and-domestic-violence. (Accessed 20 June 2022).