NGOs in the country continue to fight discrimination

Q is 10-years-old. He is skinny, has brown afro hair and is dark-skinned. He has a beautiful smile and an energetic spirit. He loves to dance, climb, read and run. He has many friends and loves to eat candy.

At the age of 6 he started to realize that girl’s clothes were not for him. “I didn’t like it because it was always tight on me,” he said. He also started to wear his clothes inside out to hide the sparkling on them.

People at school didn’t questioned the way he dressed. “They would just ask mommy: ‘Is Q a boy or a girl? And that’s all they would say,’” Q said.

Q was born in Colombia but moved with his mother to New York when he was 2-years-old. He lives with his mother, his younger brother and two cats in a house in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Q is transgender.

In 2013, the Colombian Congress approved a law that sought to promote the respect and protection of the human and sexual rights of students, and tackle school violence and pregnancy in teenagers. In 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Ministry of Education had to review and modify the rulebooks of the schools in the country to promote and guarantee the respect of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity of the students.

In addition, the Colombian Constitution establishes the right to the free development of the personality and equality, and the sexual and reproductive rights.

But while the country has taken steps to fight discrimination and recognize the rights of the LGBT community, discrimination remains pervasive.

Last August, mobilizations and protests exploded around the country because of the modification of the rulebooks in schools. Protesters said the rulebooks encouraged homosexuality.

For Alejandro Lanz, human rights activists and director of PARCES ONG, “while the mobilizations gave visibility to a group that has been largely discriminated, it also created the perfect space to reproduce prejudices and reinforce stigmatizations that already exist toward these identities [LGBT].”

Mateo is 21-years-old. He was born in Cali, Colombia and moved with his parents to New York when he was 15-years-old, in 2010.

He changed his name when he was 18-years-old and two years later he started testosterone at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. Before doing the transition he says his teachers at Hunter College — where he is a current student — respected his pronoun “no matter what whether or not it matched in their minds on how a guy is supposed to look like,” he said.

Yet, in Colombia kids have been expelled from schools because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Other kids have committed suicide and girls have been forced into prostitution, not left with many options.

There are no official statistics in the country about transgender children and youth, which makes it difficult to know the scale of the challenges. But according to NGOs in Colombia that are working to promote the rights of, and fight discrimination against, the LGBT community around the country, the family and the schools are the main spaces where the LGBT kids face more obstacles and discrimination.

“It is a silent violence because kids can’t protest,” said Laura Weinstein, director of the Fundación Grupo de Acción y Apoyo a Personas Trans (GAAT).

Among the LGBT community, transgender people are the ones who have faced the most discrimination because their transition is often visible. They go through physical transformations and in the case of transgender men, their voice also changes. Among this community, the women have been more abused than men.

According to the most recent statistics, 14 transgender people were killed in 2012. But the figures about transgender victims could be higher. The Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences registers transgender women under the categories “male sex” and “homosexuals,” and 39 of the victims killed in 2012 fell into the category of people whose sexual orientation or gender identity couldn’t be determined, some of whom could have been transgender men, said Colombia Diversa in a report.

In the United States, some states have taken steps to tackle discrimination of transgender kids and youth at schools. The possibilities for these kids seem promising.

In New York, the Department of Education has sought “to maintain a safe and supportive learning and educational environment that is free from harassment, intimidation, and/or bullying and free from discrimination.” Some schools have started to implement gender-neutral bathroom and kids can choose which talk about puberty they want to attend — the one for girls or for boys — although both measures are still in an early stage.

There are also things that still need to be done. In the city, only the Ackerman Institute for the Family offers services and programs for kids younger than 13-years-old, in English and in Spanish. Nationwide, it is still a dangerous country in particular for transgender people of color.

According to figures released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, in 2015 people of color and transgender and gender nonconforming people made up the majority of the hate violence related to homicides. Thirteen of the 24 homicides reported in 2015, were transgender women of color.

Francisca Montaña, Q’s mom, is aware of this reality but raising Q in Colombia is not an option for her. She says that in the United States people can talk more openly about different gender and sexual identities.

She is afraid of the ignorance of the society in Colombia, recalling the recent mobilizations in the country.

“For the people who don’t understand, it creates a lot of violence towards human beings that they are just being who they are,” she said,

Mateo says that if he were in Colombia, he wouldn’t have done the transition. Two girls of his school in Cali were expelled because they kissed in the bathroom. He was afraid that they would expel him too and he wanted to continue his studies.

Pedagogy at schools is a key step to start breaking stereotypes.

“When you share with people of diverse sexual orientation, that breaks paradigms,” says Yebrail Pineda, Colombian human rights activist and was president of Fundacion Monteria Diversa. “You start to realize that the other person is a human being just like you, who has emotions, who wants to get ahead, and wants to be somebody in life.”

In New York, Francisca and Q have met more transgender people.

 “I want him to be aware that his life is possible in the future,” said Francisca.

 And Q dreams big.

 “I want to be a dancer of pop music. I want to be a professional climber. I want to be in the olympics. And have a really big house, and a lot of dogs. Big backyard and a lot of slides.”

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