Ei-iE

Labels belong on bottles - not people

published 9 June 2022 updated 13 July 2022
written by:

NAPTOSA is the second largest teachers’ union in South Africa serving education through its legacy organisations since 1904. The NAPTOSA leadership and membership represent the racial diversity of the country and are inclusive of the LGBTQI+ community.

South Africa's Constitution prohibits unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, thereby guaranteeing equality for the LGBTQI+ community. The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) released a gender identity and sexual orientation policy which they are expecting to be signed and adopted before the end of this year. NAPTOSA supports this policy, based on the constitution and NAPTOSA’s founding principles.

NAPTOSA views rejection as a form of abuse and condemns anyone who subjects young children to it. NAPTOSA embraces diversity. This is clear in the NAPTOSA constitution and gender policy that encourages members from previously marginalized groups to take an active role in the leadership structures within the union.

This is the third and last contribution to a blog series launched on the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia on 17 May.

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“I was boxed in by religious beliefs, family, and society norms and values. I followed my own personal convictions to come out of the closet at University age 22, only to then be placed into another box. Mom's words, when I had sat her down to explain to her what I was going through, were, 'Son, are you sure this is not a phase '. Probably was at the time but...

I am Charles Adams. I identify as Charles. I have and will always be just that-Charles on a mission to take on whatever comes my way. I do not conform or define to the expectations of others but rather to my ideal of what I see for me-never leaving God out of any of these choices.

My mother would always say, 'When we visit aunt and uncle so and so, just introduce him as a friend, because that generation won't understand' but I knew in my heart my mom was, in her own way, struggling with my choices, but nevertheless was very loving and supporting.

I come from a strict Catholic upbringing in that if you fall into the act of homosexuality, your soul was doomed. I still am Catholic and practice and worship there. My mother is very involved in the church. My late father was a political leader and mechanic by trade, very supportive husband, and devoted father with his strong opinions about homosexuality. My late eldest brother never married but devoted his living years living with a woman twice his age with her own children and at that time a grandmother of two. My younger brother is transgender, and I am the second born. A diversely and divinely favoured family.

Growing up in a small town where everybody knows everything about you did have its challenges. But I grew a thick skin to comments and embraced every experience in my own stride. Like all boys in the tender years of my time, I did what all boys do: play, fight, cry, go fishing, getting into all sorts of trouble and being very experimental. I particularly enjoyed weekends because our home was the halfway stop for every one of our friends and peer cousins. So, we always had a full house. I got to play soccer, cricket, or to play with doll houses.

In my high school years around Grade 10 I finally got girlfriend. It was my matriculation year, after full 2 years in a relationship when everything changed. I started to question my sexuality more and wanted to know 'why do I feel the same feeling towards my girlfriend as I do when I look at a person of the same gender?' Was it a sexual desire or an emotional attachment?

I've always been of the belief that a life commitment is to one person, so I spent many relationships with boys and girls enjoying the process of elimination but realised I don't care about gender, I just love. I was taken up by one particular guy at a gay club in Durban back then, The Lounge, who swept me off my feet. (God rest his soul, shot and killed in the line of duty). It was then I realised I love all people but am both physically and sexually attracted more to the same gender. I am now in a 6-year committed relationship to whom my heart belongs. I never thought that I would be blessed to love and share this life and space with someone so special ever again.

How has this affected the way I function as an educator and community leader? Simple-I live my life and do my job. I live by the words, 'They will know I am Christian by my love'. For me being open about my sexual preference, I find it easier to communicate with learners and peers because the barriers are not there. People find me approachable because I have no hidden agendas by living my authentic life. I'm so grateful that although the mindset of many is fused to a past of misinformation, misunderstandings and false truths, this generation I am more hopeful for because most don't see labels (unless taught), they see me. I currently teach at a primary school but have experience of 5 years at a high school too. The only differences are that primary school learners are more inquisitive. On the other hand, because I am open about who I am and what I stand for, with my high school learners I gained a respect and enjoyed my teaching experience.

What I would like to leave you with is this-How you identify yourself should not be by labels but how you want to live your life. Set your own rules that work for you and know that there are no limits, only limitations. Live life to the fullest. Be who you are to your learners and peers - you'll be respected more for that. Know what you want, don't settle for less. Lastly, labels belong on bottles and categories, not on human beings.”

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Read the previous posts of this series:

On Teachers’ Responsibility Towards LGBTQI Students

Towards schools that are inclusive and respectful of LGBTI people in Latin America

You can also access EI’s Statement for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.