Latin America’s first transgender school inspired by Mexican activist and muxhe

Amaranta Gómez Regalado is a Mexican trans activist who defines herself as muxhe, a concept from the Mexican indigenous Zapoteca culture. The ancient term was used to refer to someone whose identity is feminine despite having been assigned the masculine sex at birth and is a term both been celebrated, but also victim to discrimination.

Her name, however, has since been given to a pioneering school in Santiago, Chile, that is breaking barriers when it comes to trans identification.

It’s no secret that school can be a difficult time for many, especially during adolescence, but for transgender students, this can be a much more trying time. State-funded schools in Chile are not allowed to teach or discuss “gender ideology,” which encompasses homosexuality and transgender issues, meaning that most students – and teachers – do not fully understand what it means to be transgender.

The Amaranta Gómez Regalado school in Chile differs from the rest of the schools in the city. It may have classrooms and teachers, but there is one important difference; the students are all transgender.

“It’s difficult to have a trans person in classes when nobody has ever talked about the concept,” explained Angela, describing her old school. “It means people are confused. At recess, they’re going to ask you what you are.” According to El Nuevo Herald, Angela admitted to having suicidal thoughts at the traditional schools but is much happier at Amaranta Gómez Regalado school.

School coordinator Ximena Matura and Evelyn Silva, the president of trans rights group the Selenna Foundation, created the school in April 2018, and even funded the first year out of their own savings. Together, they have created a safe space for students who have had traumatic experiences in traditional schools and allows them to see school and education in a positive light.

In a 2016 study, UNESCO reported that “homophobic and transphobic violence in school creates a climate of fear, anxiety and insecurity. This has a negative impact on learning for all students, undermines students’ trust in the staff and the institution, and can result in students disliking or feeling disconnected from school.”

One of the school’s professor’s, reported RT News, explained that the Amaranta Gómez Regalado provides inclusivity and respect for the students, but that the Chilean government has the responsibility to make all schools trans-friendly.

“If it does not,” she said, “this school, by common logic, should grow.”

And that is exactly what is happening. This year the school started a summer programme consisting of 20 students, eight of which were not previous students of the school. They hope to present their project to an international trans fund which has a prize of $20,000 dollars, which would give them more financial stability to open the school doors to more students.

Above the whiteboard, colourful letters spell out “Bienvenides,” the gender-neutral form of welcome in Spanish, meaning that the students are free from gender tags as soon as they walk in the classroom. La Tercera spent a day in the school and noted that many of the students have a special fascination with English, as the language doesn’t require a masculine or feminine ending when talking about people.

“In English, you almost never have to change a word’s gender,” Fernanda, one of the students, explained. “You can talk in general about a person without having to define their gender. I love that.”

READ MORE: Opinion: Todos, Todas y Todes, the new genderless Spanish that is sparking debate across the continent.

This is the first trans-only school in Latin America, despite Chile being one of the more politically-conservative countries in the region. Heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, divorce was only legalised in 2004 and it wasn’t until 2017 that abortion was allowed in very limited cases, such as rape or danger to the mother’s life.

However, in November last year a gender identity law was passed which allows people from 14 years old to change their gender on their ID document, as long as those under 18 have the approval of a family member or legal guardian.

The school hopes to improve transgender students’ experiences of the school system, ensuring that they do not miss out on certain opportunities because bullying has forced many to leave education as soon as possible.

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