French students protest after suicide of transgender classmate

Fouad, 17, died after tensions with school officials for her gender identity

Alessio Perrone
Friday 18 December 2020 15:00
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Students stage a sit-in outside the Fenelon High School in Lille, northern France, Friday, 18 December 2020
Students stage a sit-in outside the Fenelon High School in Lille, northern France, Friday, 18 December 2020

About 100 high school students rallied in northern France to pay homage to a transgender student who died by suicide this week after facing tensions with school officials for her gender identity.

The teenagers held a sit-in and a moment of silence outside the entrance to the Fenelon High School in Lille as school started on Friday, expressing their anger and distress at the suicide of their classmate Fouad.

Fouad, 17, died Wednesday 16 December in a shelter where she had been staying, the school district said in a statement. She was identified only by her first name according to French policy for protecting minors.

Classmates said Fouad had recently decided to go public about her female identity and was summoned to speak with a school official after wearing a skirt to class.

The case has drawn indignation after a video that Fouad shared with friends surfaced on social media.

In the video, Fouad is heard talking with the official, who argues heatedly that her transgender identity is upsetting others in the school while the student is in tears. French daily Le Monde reports that Fouad was sent home for wearing a skirt that day.

Fellow students were upset that the school’s announcement about her death referred to Fouad as a male pupil, and said some teachers refused to refer to Fouad as “she”.

“Valérie Cabuil, rector of the Lille Academy, learned with great sadness that a final year student at Lycée Fénelon in Lille ended his life in his foster home on Wednesday,” the school authorities wrote in a press release on Thursday 17 December. “This dramatic event shakes up the entire education community.”

A psychological support programme was put in place for students and staff.

Fouad, who was of North African origin, had suffered both gender and racist discrimination inside and outside school, said a friend, Annabelle, who was at Friday's protest. Annabelle did not want her last name published because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Fouad “was suffering a deep pain that dates to a long time ago,” and was aggravated by the situation around her gender identity at school, Annabelle told the Associated Press.

“We are here to send a message of tolerance,” Annabelle said. “And to tell Fouad we are here for her.”

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

Additional reporting by AP

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