October 16, 2019
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Chilean school provides friendly environment for transsexual kids

By Patricia Lopez Rosell

Santiago, May 14 (efe-epa).- When it's recess time at Amaranta School, the first school for transsexuals in Chile, 42 children play in the schoolyard while in an adjacent room a gymnastics class for adults begins, promoted by the neighborhood association that provided the space for this educational project.

This free school has two classrooms, a dozen volunteer teachers and is financed with contributions from civil society, like that of the residents' association of the Ñuñoa neighborhood on the south side of Santiago, which also provided this property that is already getting too small and which lacks a cafeteria and heating.

"We created the school in April 2018 because we found ourselves with five children from the Selenna Foundation, which protects transgender children. Five children expelled from school and with no friends. So we decided to give them somewhere to prepare for their exams for free," the director of Amaranta School, Evelyn Silva, told EFE.

Amaranta School, which began as a shelter for five transsexual youngsters, has now become a school with more than 40 students between ages 6 and 17.

"Some 80 percent of our children are transsexual. The other 20 percent include their siblings and some minors who had suffered bullying or are differently able to learn," Silva said.

Angela Sabioncello, 15, one of the first graduates from this educational center, told EFE that the school was named in honor of Amaranta Gomez, a Mexican politician and transsexual activist.

"It was hard for my schoolmates to call me 'she' or 'Angela.' They didn't do it to annoy me but they couldn't get used to it - the same with the teachers. So they expelled me last year and I didn't go outside the house until I came here," Sabioncello said.

Matteo Osorio at age 17 found himself in a similar situation when he switched gender at an all-girl school.

"I felt insecure and without support. I was trapped inside what is considered a female," Osorio said.

As for the segregation of transsexual children in school, the director said that doesn't happen: "Our schedule is from Monday through Thursday from 8:30 to 15:30. The rest of the week they live their lives in other surroundings."

For her part, the coordinator of Amaranta School, Ximena Maturana, considered that in "formal" schools, they "still don't know how to manage" sex change.

"There's a memo from Education that obliges trans youngsters to use the name, uniform and bathroom that apply to them. Nor do they have the right to be visibly gay in the classroom. There are directors who recommend that they shouldn't admit they are trans publicly and that the children should just put up with it," Maturana said.

The two women leading the project were speaking from experience because each has a transsexual daughter and are determined to make the transition easier for others.

"Our school is not registered with the Education Ministry because it doesn't fit in with their ideas. Here we teach traditional subjects but we also incorporate the best of alternative systems in order to educate them as to their emotions," Silva said.

In the morning, all students hand over their mobile phones and are divided between the elementary schoolroom and the high school.

Separate groups are also made up for youngsters who have had their new identity for a longer or shorter period of time.

"Minors who make the gender change suffer a slight emotional underdevelopment, they have to get to know their new selves, have fun, express themselves and here we give them that opportunity," Silva said.

Angela and Matteo began the transition in their mid-teens, though they admitted that from the time they were between 4 and 8 years old, they felt themselves to be girl and boy, respectively.

"The majority realize it between ages 3 and 5. But the kids don't know they are trans, they just know something is going on but of course they can't put a name to it," Silva said.

Visibility is the banner of this school, which invites all parents to allow their children to appear in pictures.

"We have given a face to transsexual childhood. We allow people to know us and take our picture. Our photos have been used in Latin America, the United States and the whole world," Maturana said.

The school has become an oasis of tolerance that seeks visibility and support, but "without hurting anyone."

"The building we're in is no longer a school. Our goal is to find one by the end of the year, but we still haven't launched a campaign because we don't want to victimize ourselves and plead for aid to help these 'poor' children," the director said.

Amaranta School has set a limit of 100 students so it can continue with its personalized focus: "The idea is not to have every kid in Chile studying here - what we want is to be a model that will be copied," she said.

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