Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Colombia: Student who was kicked out of high school for being a lesbian speaks up against discrimination

  • UPDATE: Just today the Fifth Circuit Civil Court in Manizales, where the ruling was being appealed, not only agreed that principal Magola Franco had erred in dismissing the students but ordered the Department of Education of Manizales to institute obligatory curriculum language that educates students on human rights on gender issues with a focus on sexual diversity ("The Courts of Manizales ratifies court ruling in favor of lesbian minors," Caracol Radio, June 4, 2008).
[NOTE: The heartbreaking part about this interview is that the high-school student and her girlfriend are still being shunned by their school-mates even as they both seem determined to finish their high school education at the school. If you would like to send them a supportive message please send me your message to blabbeando @ and I will try to get it to them]

In late April, I shared a shocking video of what happened in Manizales, Colombia, when a court determined that two students had been unfairly kicked-out of an all-girls high school because they were lesbians ("
Allowed back in school by court order, lesbian students are heckled by student body, school principal").

News cameras caught the students as they walked into the Leonardo da Vinci High School to register for classes and were faced by most of the student body shouting "We don't want you!" at them while expressing support for the school principal.

In that video, the faces of the two students were blurred digitally to protect their identity but now one of them has decided to speak-up and show her face. The interview was broadcast on an investigative late night news show called El Radar on Colombia's Caracol Television. Unfortunately there are no subtitles but here is a translation (the interview proper begins at the :44 second mark).

Maria Elvira Samper: Jenny, first of all, welcome to "The Radar."
Jenny Viviana Rendon: Thanks
MES: I want to reiterate a [deep sense] of admiration for the courage and valor in showing your face [despite] a society as full of prejudice as ours is. I want to tell you that you should feel at ease, that if there is a question that bothers you it is not my intention to bother you and that if you don't want to answer it, don't answer it...
When did you decide to tell your parents that it wasn't as they wanted you to be - or how society or your classmates or your friends or your family - wanted you to be.
When my mom said to me, my mom said to me: 'You have to tell him.'
MES: Did you tell your mom first?
JVR: She figured it out... and then - once she knew - she told me "Tell your dad or I will tell him." And so I - It's me with the problem - so I will tell him.
MES: That is not your 'problem'...
JVR: Ah! Good...
MES: That is not your problem. A whole other thing is for society to see it as a problem; Have you felt... was it difficult, let's say, was it very difficult...?
JVR: [nodding 'yes'] Too difficult...
MES: Is it a united family? Is it a warm family? Has it made it easier... Have they made it easier for you all this process of integration - a little bit- or to confront a situation that I imagine became very difficult at the school when you decided - or when they told you that you were not accepted [a clip is shown of the girls walking into the school as their school mates shout against them].
JVR: Well, yes. They not only have provided me with huge [support]. I think that if it wasn't for family, one would not have the valor to show up like this.
MES: In this process have you counted with psychological assistance, with a counselor, with a schoolmate, other than your family?
JVR: We have gotten unconditional support from the Public Advocate's Office.
MES: How are your school mates with you, how have they welcomed... Did they know, let's say?
JVR: Yes. All of them...
MES: And did you feel rejected?
JVR: Very much so.
MES: Your teachers?
JVR: Well. Very well.
MES: Have you found more understanding coming from your teachers than from your school-mates?
JVR: Yes..
MES: Do you have friends to whom you feel at ease talking, with whom you feel comfortable, or do you always feel looked at differently, as if you are being questioned, or..
JVR: No.
MES: Do you feel as comfortable at school as in your home?
JVR: [Opens up eyes and reacts emotionally] Uh, no...
MES: No.
JVR: I do feel more pressure at school but I do have a friend. A friend that helps me a lot and with her... If we sit down to talk about this, it's very normal for the both of us.
MES: And the family of that friend greets you normally?
JVR: Yes, the day of the court ruling they cried with us and everything.
MES: Have they mistreated you - eh - psychologically in any way at school, for example?
JVR: Well, I think that a mistreatment was the day of the protest. That day we felt very, very awful.
MES: And who do you attribute for that [more clips are shown from the video shot on that day]. Do you feel that considering teachers that were understanding with you, the principal was not?
JVR: It's that the protest was done in the morning, we study in the afternoon. And so, the morning teachers had nothing to do with us.
MES: Do you think that the protest was orchestrated, was spontaneous...
JVR: I can't say that 'Yes! it was for.. It was organized' but... I believe it was [the high school principal has denied that she had any role in orchestrating a protest despite the banners, the students' vocal defense of her decision to remove the students and the fact that students had access to the school's intercom system].
MES: OK, after you were accepted back in school, has there been any changes or do you continue to feel that you are a bit isolated.
JVR: No, well, we both are isolated because it's only the two of us. The two of us in the classroom. The two of us during the school-breaks. The two of us for everything. Because we don't talk to anyone.
MES: But is it because the rest do not want to talk to you or because you feel a bit inhibited because you feel that there is a kind of fence.
JVR: No. We have always been very social. We have been group leaders. We have been very dynamic all these years and this year we feel more distant...
MES: What grade are you in?
JVR: 10th [equivalent to being a junior at a US high-school].
MES: You almost... on the verge of graduating. Outside of school do you find more tolerance?
JVR: [Shrugs] It's that it's so weird because one find people that say 'No, that's normal, it's silly' but then one encounters reality, it's not like that.
MES: Do you think that - from now on - things will be easier or more difficult?
JVR: [Cringes] Uh, I don't know.
MES: Are you scared? Are you fearful...
JVR: Yes, a lot
MES: What is it that you fear.
JVR: I have fear because if I was rejected for something they already knew... and with someone who was... well, that we were together... that they studied with me all the time... and I was rejected... and so I don't know if I will be rejected in the future... I don't know what kind of people I will meet in the future...
MES: Have you cried a great deal during this process?
JVR: No.
MES: Very macha!
JVR: I cried on the first day but late at night when I was already in bed but I didn't cry nor in front of them nor have I cried as if I am just about to die or that I let depression take over me, no.
MES: What would you say to parents of children like you that don't... that have left their children abandoned.
JVR: That they should get involved a little bit. That they get a little bit involved on the issue. Because if they get involved, or better said, if they try to feel like one feels sometimes, perhaps they will understand. I believe that my dad... my dad is a person with a very open mind.
MES: Who is your father.
JVR: He is an administrative assistant. But he has worked with many things and that probably helps him.
MES: Did you find more understanding from your dad, from your mom, or from both equally?
JVR: From both.
MES: And your siblings? There wasn't any shock, nothing?
JVR: No, well... let me tell you... eh, my mom at first was very stern.
MES: Why.
JVR: Well, it was harder for her because I am her little girl and everything.
MES: How were you able to get your mom - because you understand her a little bit and her reaction - how were you able to get her to lower her guard a little bit - to say it that way - and to get to the point, the point in which you are right now. Did you do something or was it an internal process when it came to your mother?
JVR: Well, I think she put a lot of herself in it, but I would speak to her normally. I would tell her 'No, but my girl friend...' or something like that. I would mention the girl's name and would speak to her normally. Something that one day she would have to understand.
MES: At school did someone find out before this was known publicly?
JVR: Yes. All my friends. 'Quote Unquote.'
MES: Well, I agree with you. Between quotation marks. And did they do... did they say something, did they have discriminatory attitudes...
JVR: No. That is what is bizarre. That when I was with them all of them said "Go ahead. Go forward. We love you both.' Well, we were always together. I think that they all acted in mass.
MES: Do you think that there are more people like this?
JVR: Yes I do.
MES: And you know them.
JVR: [Smiles] Yes.
MES: After all these things have you have an opportunity to talk intimately or personally, privately, with the [school] principal who, by all appearances, seemed to be the harshest person in all this process?
JVR: No.
MES: You don't even want to see her in a painting? [a common Colombian expression determining disdain]
JVR: No! It's not like that. To me it's all the same.
MES: Don't you want to communicate with her? Don't you want to tell her anything?
JVR: No! Well - She thinks in a different way than we and many other people do.
MES: Wouldn't you ask her - in that sense - 'I respect what your thoughts are, please respect who I am'?
JVR: We said that to her on many occasions. No, she doesn't...
MES: And what does it mean to return to a school that did to you what it did to you.
JVR: No, it doesn't matter. Because the school and I - not for the principal - but I love my school. I was born there. I have been there since 6th grade. So I have a strong feeling of belonging with the school and I don't care.
MES: And are you ready to continue fighting in this year that is left...
JVR: And in the next one as well..
MES: And in the next one that is left to seek more acceptance, more tolerance, more respect for you or people who are like you?
JVR: Yes, I think that after a little bit of time, things will calm down and we will get back... yes! to carry on normally, and to continue being the same ones as before, if God allows.
MES: He, if... Well, Jenny. You don't know how us at El Radar thank you for being with us. We hope that this show and what you have said will serve so many people and help so many people that perhaps - as people say - are inside the closet going through very difficult moments and we hope that there are many parents such as yours that can make of people such as you happy beings.
JVR: Many thanks to you.

After the interview the show's anchorman explains that while Jenny decided to go on camera with her parents consent, the parents of her girlfriend felt it was better for their daughter not to speak on camera. She still was in the studio, sitting near Jenny, as she was interviewed for the show.

1 comment:

NICOLE said...