Prosecutors probe treatment of transsexual pupils at Málaga schools

Centers initially refused to allow children use of preferred name and uniform

Public prosecutors in Andalusia have opened an investigation into three schools in Málaga province that have proven reluctant to respond to the request of parents to respect the gender identity of their children. The parents of the youngsters — who are aged six, eight and nine — have asked that they be called by the name with which they identify, be permitted to wear boys' or girls' uniform and be allowed to choose which bathroom to use.

The case has landed on the desk of sexual discrimination and gender violence attorney Flor de Torres, who said she hopes the matter can be settled without calling on the courts. "If we consider there has been a crime of discrimination, it is my obligation to report it, but before that we will try and see if it is simply a lack of understanding."

Two of the three schools - two state-subsidized private religious institutions and a public center - have already said they will accept the parents' demands, although the latter asked that the nine-year-old, who has changed schools, start next Monday. But the third center, a religious school run by Málaga's archbishopric, has refused to allow the six-year-old to appear in the register with a female name, wear a skirt or to be treated as a girl in school activities.

The six-year-old's mother was told over the summer that when the school year began her child would be treated as a girl, but the religious foundation has now demanded a judicial order before it will accept the change. "Why does my daughter need a judicial order when the others do not?" asked the mother, who added that transsexual minors "lack visibility."

She asks me every day. ''Is it fixed yet?'"

"She asks me every day, 'Is it fixed yet?' She was excited about being able to wear a skirt and we bought a hairband and a pink satchel. I wanted her to be more discreet, but she is exaggeratedly feminine. The psychologists say it is a way of reaffirming her identity."

The Andalusia regional government hopes that the impasse can be resolved: "We want to be part of the solution and contribute to the defense of the rights and wellbeing of boys and girls in our schools."

Generally, issues such as this are resolved between the centers and the families. This year, 12 families have looked to the Andalusia Association of Transsexuals for help and together have presented their children's schools with a petition, also signed by the CCOO, UGT and USTEA labor unions and the Andalusia branch of the national Parents of Students Association. They were delivered to centers in Seville, Cádiz, Huelva, Córdoba, Almería and Málaga, but only the three schools in the latter province rejected it. The principals of the schools informed the parents that the Málaga Education Inspectorate had intervened, although this is usually the case only when an agreement between parents and the school board has not been reached. In the contrary case, they become involved, say sources at the regional government.

I'm eager to go to school, and it's strange that a boy would say that"

After the prosecutor's office requested information, the inspectorate on Wednesday issued a document laying out the guidelines its employees should recommend schools adopt: that the student's documentation and the class lists should reflect the gender the child feels identified with; teachers should use the name they wish to answer to; the gender the students identify with must be taken into account during group activities; and that the possibility of the children being permitted to choose to wear either male or female uniforms be accepted.

It also states that students should be allowed to use whichever bathroom they feel most comfortable with or, if it is requested, that "adequate facilities" be provided, something that in California has already been written into law.

All of this has been promised to the nine-year-old due to start a new school on Monday. He has not been able to attend classes for the past three weeks after starting the new school year at a public center in Málaga. "He was always alone in his old school, sitting on a step," says the mother. At the new school, he had made friends and everybody called him by his preferred masculine name. "He was really happy."

But four days after school had restarted, the principal, who had given the green light to the family's requests before enrolling the student, informed the parents that the inspectorate had vetoed the agreement and that the child could not be treated as a boy, but must be called by the name on his birth certificate. The family, on the advice of psychologists, decided to take their child out of school until the matter was resolved so that he wouldn't be marginalized again. The principal telephoned this Wednesday to say that the student could rejoin class on Monday with his male name. "I'm eager to go to school, and it's strange that a boy would say that," the youngster told EL PAÍS.

The Andalusia Association of Transsexuals backs the parents' petition and has called on schools to guarantee the free development of the children's personalities. Otherwise, says the association's president, Mar Cambrollé, they will be "discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity and their rights will be violated." The association has formulated a proposal for the regional government to standardize the treatment transsexual children should receive in Andalusian schools.

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