Saturday, April 26, 2008

Colombia: Allowed back in school by court order, lesbian students are heckled by student body, school principal

In most Roman gladiator movies there is a scene in which slaves are led to the coliseum to be slayed by Roman fighters or mauled by lions. Usually the camera shows them entering the arena through a passageway as the sounds of the cheering crowd get progressively louder and then emerge into the blinding sunlight to a now-deafening cacophony and the sight of the bleachers filled with hundreds of blood-thirsty spectators.

For some reason, that was what came to my mind when I saw the extraordinary images captured in the video above at an all-girls school in Manizalez, Colombia, as broadcast on Caracol News last night (begin watching at the :26 second mark).

Background: On February 10, La Patria broke the story of the expulsion of two girls from the Leonardo Da Vinci High School in Manizalez allegedly because they were lesbians ("Out of classes for preferring their same gender," La Patria, Feb. 10, 2008).

The issue had come to the forefront because María Constanza Montoya Naranjo, the city's Secretary of Education, said that they had received a complaint of discrimination at the 1,500 student high school and that the city was looking into the claims.

Magola Franco Pérez, the school's principal, argued then that the two girls had been expelled for behavior and not because they were lesbians. She told the reporter that there were many other girls with the same "tendency" at the school but that the others did not have behavioral problems (which, according to the principal, included showing up to school with the smell of beer on their breath and being seen smoking while in school uniform). She said that if the school was ordered to welcome the two students back, she would resign in protest.

The young women, 16 and 17 years of age respectively, had been in a 16-month relationship and told the newspaper they were trying to keep up with their studies on their own while they fought to be allowed back in school.

Court rules in girls' favor: The girls' parents brought the case to court on April 10th under the Colombian court "expedited ruling" process called tutela and this Thursday a court ruled in their favor.

The ruling stated that the school principal had had been "unclear" in the reasons for letting the students go and ordered her to allow the girls to register for classes within 48 hours ("Two lesbian students who had been expelled from a Manizalez school will be reintegrated," El Tiempo, April 24, 2008).

The Roman coliseum: The girls and their lawyer returned to school yesterday morning with the court order but even they could not have expected the vehemency of their less than friendly welcome.

Shouting "We don't want you" (no las queremos, which you can clearly listen in the video) and "We want Magola" (queremos a Magola, in support of the high school principal, also seen later in the video), a large number of Leonardo Da Vinci High School Students clearly expressed where their allegiance lied despite the Principal's reported congratulations to the students on having won the case as they registered for classes ("Leonardo Da Vinci School follows court ruling," La Patria, April 26, 2008).

In the video, the girls' lawyer, Maria Elena Castrillon, is visibly stunned by the reception and is shown crying. "This appears to be without precedence," she tells Caracol, "A situation such as this it's inadmissible."

Despite the "We don't want you" shouts one of the students that organized the protest - who is shown with her face against the camera - insists that the protest is not against the two girls but a defense of the dignity of the school's students. "They [claim] that we are school purely made up by lesbians, and, no, things aren't like that," she tells Caracol.

She admits that the rally is also in support of Principal Pérez who, in the La Patria article, is said to have been questioned by some civil rights leaders who were present for such a reaction (they requested that Pérez institute a number of trainings on the issue of discrimination for the school's students).

The paper also noted that the protesters had access to school resources including the internal communication network which the protesters used to rally students (the Principal denied any role in allowing students to use the intercom system).

By day's end, as shown in the video, the Principal was finally talking to reporters and expressing anger that her authority had been challenged not only in expelling the students but also for being taken to task for what she called an impromptu demonstration by students yesterday.

Our friends at the Colombian LGBT rights organization Colombia Diversa have supported the girls and their families through the court process and are following up on these developments (that's their Executive Director, Marcela Sanchez, in the video responding to the atrocious student response).

In the meantime, a Facebook group has been formed to fight homophobia in Colombian high schools, and some are calling for an annual Colombian version of the Day of Silence demonstration similar to those that just took place in the United States this week.

In the meantime the two girls are supposed to return to class full time on Monday. Let's see how it goes.

Here is the coverage by RCN News as well:


Queers United said...

very disturbing, too bad i cant understand the videos, i would have liked to see it, but yeah no espanol for me

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. Somme Colombian bloggers also wrote about this scandal:

Maegan la Mala said...

This is absolutely horrifying.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the news