Chilean children find hope at Latin America’s first transgender school

‘Les niñes’

SANTIAGO – More than two dozen pupils find it very safe at “Les niñes”, Latin America’s first-of-its-kind school for transgender children opened in Chile last year.

Named after Amaranta Gómez Regalado, a Mexican transgender politician and LGBT activist, the school caters to 28 children aged between 6 and 17. They learn math, science, history, English and art, but for the children, the lessons are less important than the acceptance they find at the school.

The school, founded by the Chile-based Selenna Foundation, began in April 2018 at a community center in Santiago.

One of the teens who attends the school, 16-year-old Angela, experienced physical and verbal abuse at her elementary school and contemplated suicide, according to the Associated Press.

“I wanted to die,” Angela told the AP. “I no longer wanted to exist because everything they were telling me was making me feel bad.”

But, she added, “I’m happy here because there are many other kids just like me.”

Transgender children reportedly often skip school to avoid discrimination and bullying. A recent law enacted in Chile allows transgender children over the age of 14 to change their name and sex in official records with their parent or guardian’s consent.

A 2016 report by UNESCO said that in Latin America, as in the rest of the world, violence against sexual orientation or gender identity in schools wreaks “havoc on the development of the affected people, school coexistence, academic performance and, consequently, their permanence in school.”

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The school was launched in 2017 as a way to help families of trans children, who often skip classes or even fail to finish their studies as result of discrimination, said Selenna Foundation President Evelyn Silva.

Teachers are working for free, but in March each family will have to pay $7 per child.

Despite the lack of resources, the foundation has started a summer school that offers dance and other workshops for about 20 children, including some who are not attending the school.

The school is not attached to the Ministry of Education. For this reason, for their teaching to be recognized, students take free exams designed by that portfolio to approve the level corresponding to each child. The first group is waiting for the results to pass the course, according to school administration.

Since its start, school attendance has grown from the original five students to 22 in December, and six more have already enrolled in the new year. Students are assigned to one of two classrooms based on age.

“Les niñes” is a milestone in such a conservative country, Chile, which did not even legalize the divorce until 2004.

In 2012, the South American country passed an anti-discrimination law and in 2017, it ended its absolute ban on abortion, legalizing it in when a woman’s life is in danger, a fetus is not viable and in cases of rape.

Chile passes law allowing transgender teens to change their sex, name