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Mexican mother promotes trans textbook for teachers

High school students are pictured in a classroom in San Nicolas de los Garza, Mexico January 30, 2023. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

High school students are pictured in a classroom in San Nicolas de los Garza, Mexico January 30, 2023. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

What’s the context?

In a country torn by transphobic violence, Mexican advocates want teachers to better protect trans and non-binary kids

  • Mother of trans teen wants better teacher training
  • New, official sex-ed textbooks stir controversy
  • School safety vital amid rising transphobic violence

MEXICO CITY - When 12-year-old Daniel transitioned gender in middle school, his Mexican teachers had no clue what to call him, how he should dress or what on earth to tell his classmates.

So they kept it all secret - prompting his mother to join a group that is backing a new text book for teachers on the dos and don'ts of trans life to ensure children like Daniel get the sort of help he never had.

"They told me everything was fine but that they preferred that nobody knew (about the process of changing gender)," Jennifer Blanco, Daniel's mother, told Openly after joining the textbook campaign.

"You could tell they did not know what to do next."

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The question of how to teach the teachers is especially pertinent as Mexico rolls out new textbooks on sex education that have stirred parental protests, angered the right and divided teachers about the call of duty versus personal belief.

Those books are anyway years too late for Daniel, whose transition came mid-pandemic, already a time of high anxiety and deep isolation for many children who found themselves cut off from friends, routine and all the buzz of school life.

Like millions of pupils, Daniel only attended classes online in lockdown and always did so with his camera turned off.

All of which meant his fellow students had no idea what was happening to him – and which also gave cover to teachers who had little information and even less experience on how to help him.

Now the Association for Transgender Infancies (ATI) is looking to fill the black hole of dis- and misinformation with their book of practical tips to help schools help pupils adjust.

An estimated 0.9% of the Mexican population identify as trans or non binary, according to the latest national survey on sexual diversity. Daniel's mother thinks the new textbook would have helped her son - and helped his staff, too.   

"The school never denied us anything, but I wish they had known how to work and coexist with trans kids," she said. 

The guidelines establish the steps teachers and staff must take to provide trans and non-binary kids – who identify as neither male or female – with a safe and happy school life.

The goal is for government to adopt their recommendations and roll them out nationwide, though the Ministry of Education has yet to reply to their request even as it reassesses sex ed.

An ABC to transition

Among its tips, the 10-page guide urges schools to:

  • check first if a child comes from a safe home.
  • change all relevant school documentation.
  • respect the child's new name and gender.
  • and provide a uniform that suits their new identity. 

Schools must also learn to be more open, the guide says, given that one in four of people who do so, begin identifying as trans or non binary in their school years, the national survey on sexual diversity shows.

"Families often come to us in fear because schools have harassed and discriminated against them. That's why we developed this protocol," said Adri Percastegui, an expert in education who works with the ATI in their mental health department.

The primer also helps parents, offering them advice on bullying and how to update birth certificates.

Six out of 32 Mexican states allow minors - aged 12 to 18 - to alter details on their birth certificate. Only the state of Jalisco allows children under the age of 12 to do so.

Mexico City processed more than 6,000 requests to change a name and gender on a birth certificate between 2014 and 2022 - with 70 requests made by teens in 2022, the mayor's office said.

The organization has already trained more than 70 schools - a drop in the ocean against a nationwide tally of 260,262 - and most of those only agreed to it after a judge mandated training after presiding over discrimination cases.

"We have children living a double life because they suffer violence at school. They're living in distress and anxiety," said Percastegui.

Controversial textbooks

While the guidelines are yet to be officially adopted, the timing for new ideas is ripe given government is actively looking to expand its education on sexuality and diversity.

This year, Mexico launched a new curriculum for children aged six to 14, with textbooks using inclusive language and citing concepts such as gender identity and LGBTQ+ families.

The new books were distributed in September to schools and promptly met with protests from parents and lawsuits by conservative groups, gaining traction in a country where LGBT+ issues divide Mexico's predominantly Catholic population.

The protests, however, were dismissed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for their "backwards" thinking.

"(Sexual diversity) is related to information that young women and men must is a fundamental thing," said López Obrador in August after being asked about the textbooks.

Opponents of the new government policy say teachers are free to skip content they do not like and that some have chosen not to teach pupils gender identity.

"Teachers are not thinking about how to ideologize...they are focusing on the student's learning process of Spanish, math, geography," said Carlos Aguirre of the Teacher Alliance, a collective that has joined protests against the textbooks.

Teachers like Aguirre are angry they were neither consulted nor trained by the Ministry of Education on the new materials.

The National Parents' Union, which has filed lawsuits against the books, also demanded that parents play a role in creating any new curriculum.

Teacher Celene Avilés coordinates a private school in central Mexico where students learn about sexual diversity - and where two students already identify as trans.

In her experience, education on sexual diversity makes for healthy dialogue between students, teachers and parents.

"One of our main purposes must be for our students to have a space where they can feel free and safe - even from their own families," she said.

Hate speech

For Blanco, sexual education in schools helps kids get reliable information in a trusted environment – instead of turning to social media or other unreliable sources.

And even the most well-intentioned of textbooks are useless if teachers are not properly trained, she said.

"We see a problem with the Ministry (of Education) in which their people do not comprehend the subject well and are unable to provide training," Blanco said.

The ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

In states such as Mexico City, local authorities are collaborating with the ministry on training.

Sony Rangel works with Mexico City's department of diversity and has trained teachers and parents from elementary school to high school; he has seen great openness - and fierce resistance.

"We see teacher with arguments from a religious point of view … to science teachers with strong biases on sexual diversity because of dated studies from the ‘60s and ‘70s", he told Openly.

Daniel, now aged 15, said he had not suffered violence or bullying, but still prefers to avoid bathrooms at school and only speaks about his gender transition to a handful of people.

"He has controlled access to social media … but can still see the hate speech," Blanco said.  "When teachers do not know what do, they are denying children a violent-free environment."

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