College of Humanities

Gender Diversity at the Core of Master’s Degree Research

Transgender people are denied adequate cognitive, emotional, moral and psycho-social support, according to findings in post-graduate research by a school principal.

Mr Asogan Subramony Naicker earned a cum laude Master’s degree in Education for the study which explored the understanding of School Management Teams (SMTs) about the transgender concept, including their beliefs, perceptions, roles and responsibilities in embracing trans people as well the challenges they face in making schools trans-inclusive for social justice.

The study was conducted across seven secondary schools in Chatsworth, Durban.

Naicker considers SMTs ‘as key delivery agents in our education system with the role and responsibility of accommodating a diverse staff and learner population’.

Naicker was brought up in a conservative environment with the topic of transgender being taboo in his family and community and he struggled with embracing trans people. As a school principal, he admitted he shunned transgender educators and learners before realising his error, prompting him to act as an agent of change.

‘After researching the topic of transgender, I became passionate about creating awareness of the plight of trans identities in main stream schooling.

‘School principals, deputy principals and department heads began understanding that there is a need to change their “brainwashed” mind-sets about trans people. This was my way to contribute constructively towards trans-inclusivity,’ he said.

During the course of his study, Naicker experienced health issues. ‘At the end of my proposal defence last year, I suffered a minor stroke, affecting the left side of my body. I was admitted to hospital and my work naturally suffered.

However, this did not deter me and I am thrilled to graduate cum laude.’

Naicker’s findings revealed that trans people are denied adequate

cognitive, emotional, moral and psycho-social support. The overarching contributing factor was found to be the social-cultural-religious bias of gender binary which was seen to be deeply entrenched in naturalism, essentialism, patriarchy, hegemonic masculinity and power relationships.

Such stereotyped mind sets existed because of poor knowledge and understanding about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) community with trans identity being conflated with homosexuality. This contributed to transphobia.

Naicker suggested intervention strategies to equip SMTs with better knowledge and understanding of gender diversity so that trans-inclusivity is facilitated and transphobia is repudiated.

‘This can be done through both pre-service and in-service training, and professional and skills development workshops. Policy formulation is the apex of this programme of action as SMTs navigate challenges such as the use of toilets, uniforms, sleeping arrangements during field trips, and religious, cultural and traditional beliefs when pursuing trans-inclusive schooling,’ he added.

His recommendations are intended to provide SMTs with a framework for transformation and social-justice when accommodating trans staff and trans learners in mainstream schooling.

Naicker is grateful to his family, friends and supervisor Professor Deevia Bhana. He will return to UKZN to pursue his PhD.