The University of Cape Town (UCT) recently issued a draft “Inclusivity policy for Sexual Orientation”, which is likely to set the trend for other universities and colleges (and potentially also, schools) in South Africa on the issue of human sexuality and gender identity.
While the policy is presented as an effort towards “celebrating differences”, it in fact does no such thing and forces a liberal sexual view on students, lecturers and staff. (See link to the policy here Click on folder “Education”, then “Policies and Laws”, then “UCT Draft Inclusivity policy for Sexual Orientation”).
Who does the policy apply to?
The policy has the broadest application possible and will apply to all interaction by UCT lecturers, students, staff, governance structures, societies (including therefore religious societies), clubs and even third parties rendering services to/at the university (para 1.2 of the policy).
In terms of the policy, anyone who fails to adhere the policy “will be deemed non-compliant” and may be held “accountable” (through, for e.g., disciplinary proceedings or assistance with referral of complaints to the South African Human Rights Commission or the Equality Courts) (para 9 of the policy).
In particular also, the policy provides for “safe spaces” — i.e. places on campus where homosexual / transgender people can be together, “safe from” speakers and ideas they dislike or disagree with (para 9 of the policy).
“Safe spaces” are becoming increasingly popular on college campuses in the US, UK and across Europe, resulting in the oppression of free speech and the stifling of debate at universities.
In various instances, “controversial” speakers have been “disinvited” from campuses for fear that they will offend students who do not share their philosophical, religious or moral views. This, when universities are supposed to be bastions of free thought and free speech – places where divergent (including competing) ideas are protected and promoted, rather than sanctioned and silenced!
What are the issues and concerns with this policy?
The policy does not, of course, expressly prohibit anyone from holding, for example, a biblical view on issues of gender (that God created us male, and female) or sexual orientation (that while God loves all people, He does not approve of any sexual relations outside of the covenant of marriage, including the practice of homosexuality).
The effect of the policy however will be to force persons (whether students, lecturers, staff or otherwise) who (on grounds of their moral or religious beliefs) do not approve of same-sex relationships, or who do not believe that gender can be divorced from biological fact, to do so by:
- “using generic terms that do not reinforce heterosexism” (para 4 of the policy). A typical example of this, would be the (forced) use of gender neutral pronouns such as “ze” instead of “he” or “she”, so as to avoid offending transgender students who do not associate with their biological gender or any gender at all;
- teaching or studying content that reflects (and by implication, promotes or approves of) sexual diversity (para 4);
- communicating in a way that promotes all sexual orientations (para 5). As a result, religious societies on campus, for example, could be forced to communicate (even to its own members!) content that directly conflicts with their religious beliefs;
- undergoing (in the case of staff and student leaders, compulsory) “sensitisation” training (i.e. indoctrination) to promote the inclusion of all sexual orientations (para 6); and
- adopting “neutral” codes, residence policies, rules or practices (para 7), which presumably would open the door for “gender neutral” toilets, locker rooms and residences (which in itself raises massive privacy and safety concerns for everyone, not just religious people) as well as for men to compete on women’s teams and vice versa (which raises a major equality concern).
What are the concerns with the policy?
As a starting point, it is important to recognise that transgenderism disagrees with thousands of years of consensus regarding gender and human identity shared by almost every culture, including those not influenced by Christian morality.
To date, there is no objective medical or scientific evidence to support the transgender claim (or in fact, the “born gay” claim – i.e. the claim that, similar to race, sexual orientation is an innate, biologically fixed human property).
While Christians may disagree with one another about pronoun usage (with some thinking it a personal courtesy to refer to a transgender person by their preferred pronoun; and others sincerely thinking it wrong and unhelpful to the transgender person him/herself to use a pronoun that is incongruent with his/her biological sex), those who sincerely believe it wrong (and indeed a lie) to refer to a person by their chosen rather than biological gender, should not be forced by the university to do so. That would amount to an unconstitutional violation of their freedom of conscience and belief, and also their freedom of speech (which is not founded in “bigotry”, but biology!).
In this regard, it is important to note that the right to religious freedom as well as the right to free speech, are all-pervasive and extend to and find application in both the private and public space, in and off campus, inside and outside the classroom. Moreover, the right to religious freedom includes not only the right to hold an internal belief, but also the right to declare such beliefs openly (S v Lawrence, Constitutional Court (1997)) – whether in private or in public.
The implication is that people should be free to express their beliefs and opinions on issues of human sexuality, and to refer to people by their biological or chosen gender pronoun as they (the speaker) choose — whether or not others agree with it, like it, or find it offensive. The only prohibition on speech, is that such speech may not be “hate speech” which, in terms of s 16(2)(c) of the Constitution, is defined as “advocacy of hatred … which constitutes incitement to violence”. Again, the constitution protects the right to “free speech” — not the right “not to be offended”.
While LGBT activists are quick to label biblical/conservative views on issues of human sexuality or gender identity, as “homo-/transphobic” or “unfair discrimination” against LGBT people, that is not necessarily the case: It simply means that there is a disagreement on an issue, which should be perfectly in order in a liberal and tolerant society as South Africa (and indeed UCT) claims to be.
In the Constitutional Court case of National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v Minister of Justice (1998), Judge Sachs observed that “those persons who for reasons of religious belief disagree with or condemn homosexual conduct, are free to hold and articulate such beliefs”.
What is an appropriate response?
As Christians, we understand that every person is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and therefore has incredible dignity and worth, and is deserving of honour and respect. There are no exceptions to this truth: all humans possess God-given dignity, and all human possess it equally.
As such, Christians are biblically commanded to love each and every person – irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender, or any other personal characteristic – and to stand up and speak out where we see any person being disrespected, prejudiced or worse, suffering violence (e.g. corrective rape) because of a personal characteristic.
This does not mean however that we will (or should) agree with, or approve of, every person’s choices – particularly not when doing so would violate our Christian conscience or contradict our biblical beliefs. And no government, and no university, can force us to do so.
In the circumstances, Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has submitted a further letter to the UCT Policy Committee (cc’d to Dr Max Price, the UCT vice-chancellor), appealing to the university to revisit the draft policy with a view to ensuring that the university fulfils its constitutional obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfil not only the rights of certain students, lecturers and members of staff, but of all! We now await a response from the university, and will advise of developments in this regard.