What A Barcelona Suicide Tells Us About Trans Bullying And Media Blind Spots
The case of 12-year-old twins, one of whom was transgender, who jumped off a balcony after being bullied, led experts in trans childhoods to reflect on how to better protect children. And how to talk about it.
TW: This content may address topics and include references to violence that some may find distressing.
In Barcelona, two 12-year-old Argentine twins, Leila and Iván, climbed on two chairs on a balcony and jumped into the void from a third floor window. They left letters by way of farewell, where they wrote that they suffered bullying for their Argentine accent. They had been living there for two years — and Iván was teased at school for his transgender identity.
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Leila, who survived and is in very serious condition, wrote on that piece of paper that she was jumping in solidarity with her brother. Although the school has denied that they suffered bullying, peers and acquaintances, as well as their Argentine grandfather, made statements that support this scenario.
While the facts and circumstances are being investigated, many media outlets have reported the news without respecting Iván's gender identity, treating him as a female and mentioning his former name. Some, appealing to supposed journalistic accuracy, have inserted a disclaimer among their notes that states: “There is only evidence of the desire of the minor, aged 12, to be treated as a man through indirect sources. Neither his family nor his closest environment have spoken yet."
Presentes Mexican partner media consulted three specialized sources on the subject to contribute tools on how to better communicate some dimensions of this kind of troubling news and the violence suffered by LGBTQ+ people, and especially trans people, on a daily basis.
How to protect children
Gabriela Mansilla is the mother of Luana, the first trans girl to have access to a document that respects her gender identity. She is also an author and militant for trans childhoods and adolescents and president of the Free Childhood Civil Association (ACIL).
Moved by the news as she also has twin children, Mansilla says: “Protecting children is an obligation throughout the world. It has to do with informing, with beginning to educate those other children who punish and bully our children. If Iván went to a school where he faced ridicule and violence, children must be educated, not only in Spain, but in the world. You have to understand that the person who has a vulva can build multiple identities. The one with a penis too."
These are preventable deaths.
For her, more information is needed so that families can embrace their children and so that the media can share the news appropriately. “We need urgent awareness to look at children but also at us as a society, and how we behave towards these bodies that make us uncomfortable. Let it be clear: these are preventable deaths. This is a social trans-homicide," she says.
The Free Childhood Association carried out the first statistical survey on the experiences of trans/transvestite childhoods and adolescents, and published the results in 2021. Of 200 families, 53% of those under 12 years of age and 63% of 12 and 17-year-olds said they had suicide-related thoughts.
“There are no prevention policies," says Mansilla. "Even when the damage is physical, emotional, psychological ... Children are suffering and resisting mistreatment at school, from classmates and teachers who have no information."
Argentine teenagers Leila and Iván
Train and inform ourselves about diversity
Manu Mireles is an activist, academic secretary of the Mocha Celis high school, identifies as a migrant and non-binary. “When we talk about moving away from the adult-centrist view, we mean, listening to trans childhoods and adolescents. Open the door to prevent the violence they suffer daily.”
Mireles believes that the educational system, families and communities must take responsibility of understanding that there are a large number of gender identities and sexual orientations. "Diversity in its widest spectrum. We must assume the responsibility and the active role of informing ourselves in order to demand from the media to have a perspective of gender and sexual diversity in the news.”
Ese Montenegro, trans masculine activist, teacher trainer and advisor to the National Chamber of Deputies, invites us to think about this news from an intersectional and situated perspective. “The first thing that is read, part of a very installed and empowered narrative, is that trans people commit suicide. The focus is once again on the trans person and not on the situation that produces the structural conditions for someone to make a decision like that, which never has a single cause."
Montenegro says that it is enough to open the local Argentine or Spanish newspapers to realize the problem. Iván recognizes the identity with which he wants to be called, cuts his hair, tells a few people that his identity is trans. “It does not seem coincidental to me such a proximity between this event and the enactment of the trans law in Spain,” he thinks, in a context of transphobia, ant trans excluding speeches that had influence in the Spanish rights agenda.
“When a law like this is approved, this has a cost. It is an advance in rights, but it is not free," says Montenegro. "Close to the time of the achievement there is often violence. .. it produces bullying and exhaustion for people's lives."
In the Barcelona case, the media have denied Iván's right to his identity. "They have named him a girl countless times. They say that they are not aware that he has expressed his identity. The dead person is being demanded to give an account of his struggle for his identity. That is so violent and absurd."