In Madrid there is a law that in its article 32 reads as follows: “The Ministry responsible for education will incorporate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender and intersex reality in the transversal contents of training for all students.” It is the law against LGTBIphobia, unanimously approved in the Assembly in July 2016. The rule that Vox wanted – and still wants – to repeal during the previous legislature, and that the president of the Community, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, opened the door to “Modify”.
It is also the norm that protects the discussion of different family models, sexual diversity or gender identity in the classroom. And the one that protects all those teachers who at some point decided to come out of the closet in their workplace. Four of these teachers, each one in an educational stage, have told EL PAÍS what it is like to be an openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual teacher in the region. Their stories are not the same, but they are all part of the LGTBI+ Teachers group, which was born in 2019, and share the same concern: discriminatory or hate speech -promoted by the extreme right throughout the world- permeates the students, especially among teenagers.
Leo Gómez, gay and non-binary: “If I had to censor my speech, I don’t know if it would compensate”
“Because of my pen, my painted nails or my makeup, everyone understands that I am not heterosexual,” says Leo Gómez, who defines himself as a “non-binary queer (a person who does not identify with either the masculine or the feminine gender). ). He is 41 years old, is from Malaga and has been working as a secondary school teacher in the Community of Madrid for almost seven years. “I come from the business world and that’s where I learned to camouflage myself,” he recalls. In 2016, the year in which the law against LGBTIphobia and the trans law in the region, decided to stop doing it and came out of the closet in the center where he taught. “Is not easy. When you arrive, you don’t know how they will receive you, because the experience we had at the school was not fantastic. And you can dress as you want, but many times you meet with resistance from someone who sees you as flashy or who worries about what the parents will say, ”she says by phone.
On more than one occasion, the institute’s management has asked her to remove or change the color of her nails, or to modify part of her aesthetics. “In the first center where I worked, a student said at home that she was a lesbian. The mother blamed me and in the end they transferred her to a religious private school”, she recounts. This course, for example, the director told her that they had received complaints because, according to some parents, they were talking to young people about taking hormones. “All we do is meet with the students and have them talk openly about their identity or whatever they want. They trust us with things that others don’t,” she explains. The kids see in Gómez a close person, who asks them what their pronouns are and makes them feel heard: “They see that their teacher has gone through the same thing as them and the students who suffer violence dare to share it and not stay hidden ”.
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Even so, Gómez says that “faggot” is still the most popular insult in the patio. They are followed by “fat” and “whore”. “The problem is that a few years ago, the (student) who had a hate speech did not dare to say it out loud (in class). Now yes, ”he says. The reason, Gómez believes, is the political attacks on the group by the extreme right. “It seems like we have to have lives that resemble heterosexuality and when they don’t, it’s annoying,” she criticizes, adding that derogatory comments “have been on the rise” among teens. “Kids who even want to leave the class when we talk about these issues, it’s happening.”
He also talks about the fear that the regulations that protect the LGTBI community in Madrid will disappear. In the investiture debate, Ayuso recalled his commitment to reform the trans law and to eliminate “ideological contents” from the classrooms. “If I have a trans student in class and they prevent me from talking about the different bodies and identities, I am going to be telling that student that his body and his identity are not valid.” Gómez does not conceive of his life as a teacher without having come out of the closet. “But if I had to censor my speech, I don’t know if it would be worth continuing in this job,” he says.
Mercedes Sánchez, lesbian: “I will continue to come out of the closet until I retire”
For 15 years, each time the course begins and in front of a packed classroom, Mercedes Sánchez greets, says her name and blurts out the following: “I’m going to be your teacher. I’m fat, I’m a dyke, I have sheep’s hair and if you want to give me a nickname, let it be with something I haven’t told you about”. She is her letter of introduction since 2008, the year she came out of the closet, although she has been teaching at the Faculty of Education of the Complutense University since 1999. “I said it openly as soon as I signed the permanent contract. Not until then. You never know what can happen, ”she says.
Sánchez co-founded in 2016 the first sexual diversity and gender identity office at a Spanish university. “But when I arrived at the Complutense there was nothing. It was an absolute invisibility”. Nobody or almost nobody addressed LGTBI issues in the academic world, and neither with the students. The first conferences dedicated entirely to the collective, he recalls, did not arrive until 2010, five years after homosexual marriage was approved in Spain. “It’s scary to start doing something. There was a void and they were issues that were not discussed. Then, when they were treated, we saw that they generated a lot of interest”. For this reason, and without fear of losing his job, he began to talk about his sexuality. “As soon as you say it, you have the power, not the others.”
For her, being openly lesbian in her work environment is “fundamental”: “I will continue to come out in class until I retire.” Still, she admits that she is “scared of what might happen on July 23,” the day of the general election. “Right now we have laws that protect us, but if they are repealed, if it goes backwards, if there start to be blacklists (in 2019 Vox proposed in the Community of Madrid to identify those who gave LGTBI talks in schools), if the pin arrives parental…”. Sánchez does not want to imagine it and she fears for her situation as a teacher, but especially for that of her students. “We are talking about students who may think that what they are is not legitimate, who may be victims of bullying in the classroom and who are not intervened because there are no legal tools. It’s the lives of a lot of people, it’s not ideology.” In the last four years, Sánchez says, something has changed: “We haven’t stopped bringing it up, but you know that when you do it there can be repercussions. Issues that were previously perceived as something new, now there are those who have come to criticize them.
Math de Andrés, non-binary trans person: “For the students I am the reference that I never had”
A few months before running for opposition, Math de Andrés, 31, processed the name change in the official documents, and the week before starting work, he underwent surgery on his chest. “It was a very visible change,” he recalls. He is a special education teacher and in the last three years he has taught pre-school, primary and secondary students in various schools. “When I was confident or felt that the environment in the center was safe, I would open up,” he says. He refers to saying openly that he is a non-binary trans person and that he prefers to be addressed with the pronoun elle. It has been this last course when he has begun to make it more visible. “It is complicated (to be visible), because you have to live for at least a year in the same center. It’s not like a friendship, that you can walk away if they don’t accept you.”
During his years at school, institute and university, de Andrés did not have any trans non-binary referent. “There was only La Veneno. If the only thing you see is that if you are the way you are you are going to end up a bitch and murdered, you still think so. But if you know that there are teachers, doctors, administrators, it’s another story. Like the Mercadona cashier is cashier and that opens up a new world for you,” he explains. Being out of the closet, he says, means being free, not having to disguise, hide or change parts of your identity: “For the students I am the reference that I never had. He could have understood me before, learned to love and respect me. Until I discovered the label at the age of 22, I didn’t have the words to express who I was. If we help 15-year-olds talk about their doubts and feel free, we give them years of advantage. It’s pretty and it’s envy.”
De Andrés has also noticed how hateful comments are beginning to occur more among students: “Before they said things under their breath, there were glances or whispers. Now it’s more up front. They don’t tell you directly, but they speak disparagingly of the collective in the third person. For example, ‘it’s because the trans are crazy’. What were corner comments have become phrases that are said out loud and in the middle of a class, ”he says. Like the rest of the teachers, he is concerned that in other communities the extreme right reaches relevant political positions (as has happened in Aragon or Valencia) and all the rights they have won will be curtailed. I don’t want to go back in the closet. We are not going to disappear and hide in a cave. I am glad that the PP has achieved a majority in Madrid and does not have to agree with Vox, ”he confesses.
Laura Canguro, bisexual: “Reading stories with LGTBI people shows them that another reality is possible”
Laura Kangaroo says that her students understand everything. She is 30 years old and has been an early childhood education teacher in a school in the northeast of Madrid since 2016: “They have me as a reference for the group, although I have not been telling each person that I am bisexual. But when I come across a comment, I have exposed myself and made myself visible, to open certain melons”. In class, she reads books with protagonists from the group, for example, or talks about the different types of families. “There doesn’t have to be a case in the classroom for it to be addressed. Reading stories with LGTBI people makes them understand that another possible reality ”, she says, and the children assimilate it as soon as they hear it:“ They are not surprised, nor do they judge it ”.
Kangaroo believes that with his aesthetic ―black and pink hair and shaved on the side, for example― he already opens up the range of possibilities in the minds of the students, because it distances them from the conventional image of the teacher. “They tend to have many concerns with gender roles: painting their nails, having to play according to what because they are a boy or a girl. And they ask. They also talk about their body and begin to identify the different parts”, says the teacher. That’s when she decides to go a step further and explain to them “that boys don’t always have penises and girls vulvae.” “They answer you: ‘Oh, okay.’ In a super natural way.”
Even so, he believes that it is still necessary to “give it more voice” in educational centers, especially now that LGTBI-themed content in classrooms is being questioned. “Being able to show diversity and having the school curriculum support that is very important. I don’t understand that it is being questioned now, it is attacking the identity of teachers and students”. Until the age of 22, Kangaroo did not find out that he was bisexual. “I had not stopped to think about it. I grew up on a wheel of A,B,C,D. Now it’s time to do this, now this other. If it had had a referent, perhaps it would have been different”.
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