School bans boy from wear­ing frock

Sunday Times - - Front Page - By PREGA GOVEN­DER

● A top pri­vate school in Jo­han­nes­burg has stopped a 17-year-old pupil, a boy, from wear­ing a woman’s dress at a fash­ion show.

Red­dam House in Bed­ford­view re­jected a pe­ti­tion by 83 class­mates of David Joffe Hunter in sup­port of him wear­ing the dress.

David is one of 102 Grade 11 pupils at the school.

The school’s de­ci­sion was “cow­ardly”, said David’s mother, Avril Joffe.

David took part in the fash­ion show on Thurs­day and Fri­day night last week wear­ing a suit and some light make-up.

The show was an an­nual fundrais­ing event for the ma­tric dance and was at­tended by pupils and par­ents.

David said he wanted to wear the dress as a “form of self-ex­pres­sion” and to chal­lenge gen­der norms and pro­voke dis­cus­sion on the is­sue.

“I don’t feel emas­cu­lated in a dress,” he said.

When he wore the dress dur­ing re­hearsals, “some teach­ers raised eye­brows”, he said, but the pupils sup­ported him.

The next day he told James Tay­lor, the teacher in charge of Grade 11s, why he wanted to wear a dress in the show. He said Tay­lor had told him he would be laughed at.

“I told him I did not mind be­ing laughed at,” said David.

Tay­lor had told him that the con­sen­sus among the teach­ers was that the fash­ion show was not the right plat­form for what he wanted to do.

He de­cided to cir­cu­late a pe­ti­tion. But be­fore it could be handed over to the head of pupil af­fairs, Car­o­line Al­berts, she and Tay­lor ad­dressed all Grade 11 pupils, telling them the dress would not be al­lowed.

David said that the prin­ci­pal, Stephen Ha­z­ley, told the Grade 11s “he had never been so dis­ap­pointed in a Grade 11 group be­fore”.

David said the school’s de­ci­sion was “ridicu­lous and un­just”.

“None of the ar­gu­ments they gave for why I shouldn’t wear a dress made any sense.”

An­other Grade 11 pupil at the school said David had the sup­port of his class­mates.

“We do not think there is any­thing wrong with what he wanted to do,” he said.

Avril Joffe said her son “had a prin­ci­pled stand to chal­lenge gen­der stereo­types”.

“It has noth­ing to do with his own sex­u­al­ity. He’s mak­ing a prin­ci­pled stand that stereo­types must be fought against.”

A former teacher from the West­ern Cape, Genevieve Louw, said David was brave to chal­lenge the gen­der bi­nary, male and fe­male, that was so preva­lent in schools.

The di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion, Mathanz­ima Mweli, said he would have to get the facts of the case be­fore com­ment­ing.

“I wouldn’t dis­miss it or deny that such things do hap­pen. The code of con­duct adopted at both pub­lic and pri­vate schools should be in line with the con­sti­tu­tion of the coun­try,” he said.

Ha­z­ley said in an e-mailed re­sponse to the Sun­day Times: “In this sit­u­a­tion, mem­bers of staff had sup­port­ive dis­cus­sions with the stu­dent around his views on gen­der equal­ity and it was agreed to use other av­enues to ex­plore th­ese type of is­sues fur­ther.

“Work­ing with teenagers is al­ways ex­cit­ing, with some­thing new to dis­cuss ev­ery day, and we are in the for­tu­nate po­si­tion to be able to fa­cil­i­tate con­ver­sa­tion and en­cour­age de­bate.”

He said the school was, and would al­ways be, an en­vi­ron­ment that pro­moted tol­er­ance of a wide range of view­points, world views, faiths and opin­ions.

David Joffe-Hunter

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