• Dennis A. Francis
Part of the Queer Studies and Education book series (QSTED)


My book, thus far, has shown how schools in South Africa are quintessentially heterosexist and heteronormative spaces. A significant finding, and highlight, of my book is how the teachers, despite their lack of training, show a commitment to learning about sexuality diversity and teaching. The teachers’ attitudes and experiences provide new insight into the South African research on LGB issues and schooling that unlike previous research opens up new possibilities for the teaching and learning of sexuality diversity in schools. Equally striking is how the LGB youth spurred on by different experiences understand and, in turn, resist heterosexist and heteronormative practices sometimes in very hostile school spaces. And so, in this concluding chapter, I bring the various sections of the book together by opening up a conversation about what I think needs to happen in the areas of policy, curriculum, pedagogy, and teacher education.

So what more does my research with LGBT youth and teachers reveal about the teaching and learning of gender and sexuality diversity education in South Africa? The gains in South Africa, post-apartheid, for sexual orientation provide a good opening to explore how the teaching and learning of gender and sexuality diversity happens in schools. This opening arises because SA has a most progressive constitution, yet as I have shown through my research and the work of others, in the last twenty-one years since the fall of apartheid schools have been sites of disparity and contradiction. Heterosexism, within South African classrooms and schools, maintains the power of heterosexuality as dominant and privileged. The seven chapters of my book reflect this temporary lapse and show how schools are quintessentially heterosexist and heteronormative spaces. A significant finding, and highlight, of my book, is how the teachers and despite their lack of training, show a commitment to learning about sexuality diversity and teaching. The teachers’ attitudes and experiences provide a new insight into the South African research on LGB issues and schooling that unlike previous research opens up new possibilities for the teaching and learning of sexuality diversity in schools. Despite the varied assemblages of how they have come to teach LO, there is a will to change, learn and teach about sexuality diversity. Equally striking is how the LGB youth spurred on by different experiences understand and in turn, resist heterosexist and heteronormative practices sometimes in very hostile school spaces.

So what needs to happen and where do the levers of change lie? This is a question I have grappled with throughout this book. And so, in this concluding chapter, I bring the various sections of the book together by opening up a conversation about what I think needs to happen in the areas of policy, curriculum, pedagogy, and teacher education. While I initiate this conversation, I am also cautious that there might be a misreading of me being prescriptive in offering ways to think or rethink the teaching of gender and sexuality diversity. I am cautious because to assume that there is a list of solutions is to oversimplify the teaching and learning of sexuality education, an exceptionally complex learning area. Borrowing from Kumashiro (2001, p. 4) my goal is not to name strategies that work (for all teaching and learning, in all situations, against heterosexism), but rather, to emphasize the partiality of any approach to challenging oppression, and the need to continually rework these approaches. So to read this chapter as a straightjacket regarding what needs to happen in schools is to run contrary to my intentional use to trouble as a way of opening up conversations.


The progressive legislation detailed in the South African Constitution and the educational policies for the teaching of sexuality diversity are out of synch. In fact, the words homosexuality, bisexuality, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or even sexual orientation do not appear in any of the curriculum policies for the teaching of Life Orientation. The national policy initiatives are useful and sets the tone for what needs to happen at school and in the classroom context but without an explicit education policy framework there remains a challenge for this process to happen. Drawing on the evidence, presented in my research, there is a need for robust policy and curriculum documents that spell out the details for practice. Without such a policy framework in place, teachers are put in a tenuous position, and as can be seen from the teacher narratives, it’s hard to integrate homosexuality and bisexuality into the curriculum. Without a policy framework, it comes as no surprise that teachers are not adequately addressing issues of diverse sexual orientations in the classroom. If this is to change, the policy gap needs to be addressed. Educational policy makers will need to articulate unequivocally that sexuality education respond to learners who have diverse sexual identities and that teaching must go beyond the singularity of heterosexuality. For this to happen and to ensure that attitudes, beliefs, misinformation, and stereotypes in the classroom context are in synch with national policy imperatives, the key players in developing these plans would include the Department of Education, school governing bodies, school managers, and LO teachers. It is important that teachers and senior managers are involved so they can ensure that what filters into the classroom resonates with the macro policies such as South Africa’s constitution. In the development of these policies and especially thinking through how these pan out in terms of content and pedagogy, policies would also need to include experts from both education and gender and sexual diversity. To address the null and hidden curriculum, schools will also need to conceptualize and put in place policies that ensure equality and social justice for all learners free from prejudice and discrimination. There exist noteworthy correlations between policy and a variety of well-being and psychosocial outcomes for GLB learners, including lowered incidence of homophobic abuse and suicide, and the creation of supportive school environments (Jones, 2009; Jones & Hillier, 2012). To encourage whole-school approaches, to challenging heterosexism and heteronormativity and where conditions do exist in schools, teachers may draw on the participation of parents and local organizations to include gender and sexual diversity in their statement on the values of the school. In the next section, the issues I raise are useful in relation to curricula and curricular development.


Issues related to gender and sexuality diversity were raised by learners’ questions, revealing a need for a more defined framework within the curriculum. For the teaching of sexuality diversity, in South Africa and potentially in other developing countries, we require a knowledge mix that is clear and explicit. The sexuality education curriculum will need to pay attention to basic but essential knowledge forms about gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, relationships, and desire. The curriculum will be inclusive and will include positive representations of gender and sexual minorities, their histories and how these interact with a post-apartheid context. Because inclusion can have an enormous scope (Kumashiro, 2000), and as is evident from my research in the ways teachers appropriated assimilationist approaches to framing their teaching, the curriculum content will pay attention to how power and privilege operate to sustain heterosexism as a system of oppression. Teachers, therefore, will need a shift from predominantly assimilationist approaches and assumptions to more critical ones that acknowledge the different backgrounds and experiences learners bring with them into schools (Carrim, 1998; Carrim & Soudien, 1999). Equally important, and as the data in my study has shown teaching and learning practices are linked to the teachers’ and learners’ social, cultural, and affective experiences. Curriculum, therefore, while paying attention to the structural aspects of heterosexism, must allow for teaching and learning processes as political and emotional or to unfold as a human endeavor (Francis & Reygan, 2016; Reygan & Francis, 2015). While this might seem obvious, it is something that might be overlooked in structural readings of the teaching of sexual and gender diversity in education. Any curriculum strategy then would need to be human too (Reygan & Francis, 2015). Sexuality cannot be separated from other social identities such as race, gender, and class. Curriculum, therefore, will need to ensure that intersections with other aspects of one’s identity are emphasized. Sexuality is never experienced in isolation and relies on the construction of our other social identities (Loutzenheiser & MacIntosh, 2004; Robinson & Ferfolja, 2001). The curriculum will explore the interconnections between sexual orientation and other forms of identification. Curriculum content must include accurate, honest, up-to-date, and age-appropriate information on sexual and gender identity issues at every grade level, across the curriculum, and in other school programs and assemblies (Blumenfeld, 2000). It is also important that the teaching of gender and sexual diversity is culturally appropriate. One of the considerations for curriculum, and especially in a context of high levels of heterosexism such as South Africa and other developing world contexts, is how to introduce gender and sexuality diversity at every grade level, including the foundation phase. And finally, regarding the “null curriculum” (Eisner, 1985), what schools do not teach, such as schools rituals, for example, assemblies, sports events, matric balls, and prize-giving ceremonies will also need to be considered and adapted to be inclusive of gender and sexual diversity. Finally, the curriculum in its promotion of an understanding of sexuality will need to foster positive attitudes towards non-heterosexuality. Textbooks and curriculum, therefore, will need to explain and reflect the realities of gender and sexual diversity, in holistic and unstigmatized ways.


The classroom can be a place of inquiry about difference and specifically different sexual orientations. Well-supported and trained teachers are what is needed and therefore regarding pedagogy, I would argue for a Freirean (1972, Horton & Freire, 1990) approach that takes as its starting point the questions that young people bring. The research findings show the active role of the learners, who draw on their experience and learning and stimulate conversations and discussion about sexuality diversity. By isolating curriculum and pedagogies, educators lose opportunities to construct classroom knowledge that breaks down the hierarchical structure of the classroom, where the teacher is all-knowing, and students are deficit bodies bringing little or no useful knowledge to the classroom (Loutzenheiser & MacIntosh, 2004, pp. 153–154). It is important that young people are positioned as knowers and agents in their understanding and experience of sexuality and relationships. In such an approach the teacher is open and has access to the differing experiences and perspectives that students bring, and can use these as resources and data for teaching and learning. However, given the teacher’s limited knowledge and the discomfort in teaching about non-heterosexuality, such an approach is weakly framed in disciplinary terms (Hugo & Wedekind, 2013) and requires teacher confidence as well as a strong knowledge base that can be deployed as needed (Francis & DePalma, 2015). From the research with teachers on the teaching of gender and sexuality diversity, this is clearly not in place in the South African context (DePalma & Francis, 2014a, 2014b, 2014c; Francis, 2012). The challenge is to develop teachers with content and pedagogical capabilities, and to sustain them in social contexts that may be hostile to any discussion about sex (Francis, 2010, 2013). The challenge is further exacerbated when one considers the classroom realities such as overcrowding and large numbers, lack of adequate furniture, discipline problems, and a range of old and young learners in the same grade present further challenges to effective sexuality teaching (Baxen & Breidlid, 2004; Francis, 2011; Helleve, Flisher, Onya, Mukoma, & Klepp, 2009; Mukoma et al., 2009). One argument is for a pedagogy that is probably more intentional and clearly structured both in terms of what knowledge and experience young people bring to the classroom and in terms of what attitudes and behaviors need to be learned and unlearned (Francis, 2010). Ellis and High (2004, p. 214) remind us that with an increasingly strongly classified and framed curriculum, teacher and learner autonomy in transacting the curriculum may limit discussion of sexuality and sexual identity. Or as Casper and Schultz (1999, p. 26) argue teaching is an art that must follow for the unpredictable:

A narrow curriculum frame doesn’t leave much room for unexpected moments in which great things can happen. If we proceed with a restrictive conception based only on what children ask or can readily grasp, we lose access to these moments of tremendous possibility. If we only wait for learners to ask questions, we are, in effect, waiting for development to take the lead when in reality learning tends to lead development.

This suggests a necessary tension that is very hard to work around. Given the contextual realities, we need to accept the very real constraints within South Africa and try to work realistically within these. It becomes clear that what counts is not defining what an optimal pedagogy is, whether strongly or weakly framed, but developing teachers who can teach flexibly across the pedagogic range, depending on what the situations and subject matter demand (Hugo & Wedekind, 2013). Such a stance necessitates the up scaling of pre-service and in-service education.

Teacher Education

Life Orientation teachers are pivotal for the successful teaching of gender and sexuality diversity (Francis & DePalma, 2015; Helleve et al., 2009). Francis and DePalma (2015) write that as agents, teachers are crucial to the success of sexuality education, as they have the potential to make significant contributions to the lives of learners through the development of a critical consciousness—the raising of awareness and enablement to recognize their capacity to transform their social realities. Drawing on the findings of my study, the LO teachers lacked content and pedagogical knowledge to teacher gender and sexuality diversity. They came from a diverse range of fields, which did not always adequately equip them to deliver teaching on sexuality diversity confidently and effectively. Without training, it comes as no surprise that teachers are not adequately addressing issues of diverse sexual orientations in the classroom. Two issues affect the teaching of sexuality diversity in South African schools. First is the level of content and pedagogical knowledge of teachers in the system and second, how they are professionally developed to teach in the area.

Within South Africa, how teachers are prepared to teach about sexuality diversity is concerning. There is far too little being done to equip teachers to challenge and teach issues related to diverse sexual orientations (Francis, 2012; Johnson, 2014; Richardson, 2004, 2008). Johnson (2014, p. 1265) based on her research of three teacher-training programs in South Africa reports that “student teachers are ill-prepared to engage with LGBTI issues in schools.” Johnson continues “the absence of LGBTI issues in teacher-training programs investigated in the study indicates the invisibility of LGBTI issues in teacher-training programs and signals the lack of preparation of student teachers to address these issues within the context of the schools”. Those involved in teacher education, too, will need to move beyond traditional signs of “knowing” the discipline or common sense and receive training on how to teach LO in anti-oppressive ways (Kumashiro, 2001). Evidently, there is a deficiency in how teachers are prepared to teach sexuality education and even worse is how unprepared they are to teach about sexuality diversity. Given the findings from my research and other research (Bhana, 2012; Msibi, 2012; Reygan & Francis, 2015), it is critical that teachers are skilled in integrating sexuality diversity in their teaching. A number of countries, including South Africa, have now mandated teaching sexuality education for all learners, it is important to focus on pre-service teacher education to ensure a workforce that can fill the apparent gap that currently exists in primary and secondary schools (Ollis, Harrison, & Maharaj, 2013). This gap, however, will also have to address critically the inclusion of content and pedagogies on non-heterosexualities. In the current pre-service teacher education programs, there are no social and cultural analysis modules that engage with theories of gender and sexuality diversity. Pre-service teachers who intend to teach sexuality education and specifically sexuality diversity will need to deepen their conceptualization of gender and sexualities theories to enable them to teach with accurate information and confidence in classroom contexts.

The improvement of LGB learners’ experiences in schools can only be achieved through teacher-focused and context-specific interventions (Bhana, 2012; DePalma & Francis, 2014b; Francis, 2012; Msibi, 2012). Research shows that in-service education for teachers that address knowledge and attitudes to non-heterosexuality can be effective in creating socially just classrooms and schools (Francis & Msibi, 2011; Ollis, 2010). In South Africa, we have a long way to go if we aspire for all Life Orientation teachers to teach about gender and sexuality diversity. In-service teacher education is, therefore, pivotal. Higher education will need to respond to this need by structuring graduate or certification courses that teachers could complete on gender and sexuality. Teachers would require substantial in-service education and extra time to read and understand the field of study. Second, the teachers will need more support in the teaching of gender and sexual diversity in schools. School managers will need to take cognizance of this fact and explore how best to provide in-service professional development for LO teachers for the teaching of sexual and gender diversity. Teachers can improve, but the steps must be gradual and focused on their current level (Hugo & Wedekind, 2013, p. 145).

It should be understood that by challenging homophobia in schools, teachers are not doing LGB learners a favor, but rather are expected by their role as professionals to do this (Msibi, 2012, p. 530). Teachers need to be informed, able, and comfortable to talk about gender and sexual diversity in schools. Given the teachers discomfort in using terms that refer to sexuality diversity, they need to be comfortable with the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, homosexuality and bisexuality and be in a position to articulate these words in ways that are affirming, inclusive, and educationally relevant to learners. Importantly, and given the strong reaction from parents and school managers for the inclusion of LGB content, teachers must be enabled to articulate a clear rationale, within and beyond the classroom, as to why issues related to LGB need to be integrated into the curriculum (Francis, 2012). In articulating this rationale teachers can draw on the Professional Code of Ethics of the South African Council of Educators, which grounds teacher professionalization. The Professional Code of Ethics stipulates that teachers “ acknowledge, uphold and promote fundamental human rights, as embodied in the Constitution of South Africa” (South African Council for Educators, 2002). Teachers can also strengthen their arguments for teaching about gender and sexuality minorities by utilizing the School code or mission statement. These, in most cases, list human rights, respect, and diversity as values the school will subscribe to. Within the classroom, the learners raised numerous questions about LGB sexuality. Teachers will need to acknowledge honest comments and questions on sexuality diversity in a positive way. Chasnoff and Cohen (2009, p. 8) write that sometimes learners might feel embarrassed to ask a certain question or state an opinion. Simply saying, “I’m really glad you asked that question” or, “I think a lot of people have that question” can help put a student at ease.

Finally and importantly, teachers must understand themselves as sexual beings and be comfortable with their own sexuality. Both pre and in-service education must enable teachers to be open about their own learning experiences and socialization in heterosexist contexts. To create change requires “disruptive knowledge, not simply more knowledge” (Kumashiro, 2002, p. 42). Teachers must be able to disrupt or trouble their socialization and learning as separate from the content they are expected to teach in the sexuality education classroom. If this is not done, there is potential for a negative effect on teaching about same-sex desires and sexualities.

Whole-School Approaches

As indicated above, there is a lot of work for schools to do to change as sites of compulsory heterosexuality. One way to take the lid off changing schools as typically heterosexist and homophobic institutions is to unlearn and re-educate through whole-school approaches that interrupt assumptions around heterosexuality, uncover silences, and break down the dangerous stereotypes and misrepresentations (Kumashiro, 2000; Neary, 2013). I imagine how best to take off the pressure from teachers, who in some instances operate in somewhat hostile environments when topics of gender and sexuality are raised. Pushing away from the assumption that change will only emanate from within schools, there is a critical need to find solutions outside of educational institutions. To ignite such change, it is a necessary for schools to create alliances with other institutions such as public health, law, social welfare, and other civil society organizations. Parents, too, need to be brought onboard in the teaching of gender and sexual diversity in schools. Parents, have for too long hindered those teachers who are trying to teach about sexual and gender diversity; or reinforce prejudicial ideas from home (Bhana, 2012; Francis, 2012; Francis & Msibi, 2011; Msibi, 2011; Richardson, 2004). For any strategy to be successful, there is a critical need to work with parental attitudes that need to change. The question is how do we bring parents, experts from the broader community including universities, NGO’s, community clinics, and even progressive religious institutions, to talk to each other for the sake of buttressing and deepening the teaching of gender and sexual diversity? Schools will need to imagine more innovative intervention practices as to how schools can collaborate with community organizations to take up lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues more assertively. There is abundant international evidence on how non-governmental organizations have worked with schools and co-create guidelines for school principals, guidance counselors, and teachers on including sexual diversity in the formal curriculum, homophobic bullying in school policies, and creating inclusive school environments for LGB people (Jones, 2009; Kosciw & Pizmony-Levy, 2013; Mayo, 2013). For example, the Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) has been involved in work in the formal education sector, including working with Life Orientation (LO) teachers in secondary schools and pre-service teachers in engendering non-homophobic behavior in South African schools (Hoosain Khan, 2013, 2014; Johnson, 2014; Manion & Morgan, 2006). Teachers themselves in this study, articulate the need to collaborate with NGOS to take up issues of gender and sexuality diversity. Schools connecting with NGO’s who work with gender and sexuality diversity can provide support for teachers, learners, and school managers. As I have argued elsewhere, it might be useful to think of a mixed approach, with a blend of in-house teaching on LGB issues (provided the teachers are willing, well-trained and supported) and external teaching, bringing in-service providers who do this kind of work very well (Francis, 2012).

In bringing my book to a close, my research has shown that schools in South Africa are quintessentially heterosexist and homophobic institutions. As a nation, South Africans have come a long way since overthrowing apartheid and Mr. Nelson Mandela, the newly elected president of democratic South Africa, stated that heterosexism would no longer be tolerated under the new political dispensation. There is a long way to go if we want schools that affirm sexuality diversity and that preclude discrimination on the basis of sexuality. If we do not continue to trouble the rampant heterosexism and heteronormativity in schools the status quo of teaching and learning about sexuality diversity and heterosexism will merely remain the same. Education, after all, offers an opportunity to teach not only against heterosexism but also to trouble and reduce it.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dennis A. Francis
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Social AnthropologyStellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa

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