On Friday, hundreds of mourners attended a vigil in Lille, a city on the northern part of France, to honor the life of a transgender teenager who died by suicide nearly a week after she posted a video to social media of her getting yelled at by a school guidance counselor for wearing a skirt to school.
The 17-year-old, who according to friends was starting to go by the name Avril, had posted the disturbing video on Snapchat.
In it, a counselor is heard saying in French, “I understand that you want to be yourself, I understand that perfectly.”
“Everything I’m doing now, it’s to better help you, that’s what you don’t understand!” the counselor later screamed at her. “Because, once again, some people have different opinions than you do and aren’t your age. It’s that simple. They don’t have the same upbringing.”
“But they’re the ones who need to be educated, not me,” Avril responded in the video.
“I totally agree! I agree with you!” the counselor interrupted, to which Avril said, “Then I don’t understand why you have a problem with me.”
Toward the end of the video, she shows a picture of a modest jean skirt and black leggings with the caption, “This is what I was wearing.”
According to the French LGBTQ+ publication, TÊTU, Avril was living in a foster home at the time of her death.
“She felt good in class. Everyone accepted and integrated her,” a close relative told the publication.
Zya, a nonbinary friend of Avril’s, added that “she was always smiling, when she was in a skirt she felt herself.”
Another friend said, “At the beginning of December, she felt confident enough to show up to class in a skirt. I think she had no idea how much violence she would receive in return. She had no intention of provoking, but just [trying] to be herself.”
Following Avril’s death, officials at her school, Lycée Fénelon in Lille, were quick to defend themselves by stressing to the public that they bear no responsibility for her death, during which they deadnamed her and used masculine pronouns.
“It is very complicated to understand what happens in the head of a young person who makes this kind of decision,” Jean-Yves Guéant, leader of the school’s PTA, said to Le Figaro. “But it’s obvious that the school bears no responsibility for this.”
Outrage over Avril’s death has continued to expand across the country and social media.
Students and staff gather in the schoolyard of Lycee Fenelon in Lille last Friday to pay tribute to Avril, who died two days before.
Elisabeth Moreno, who serves as Minister Delegate for Gender Equality, Diversity, and Equal Opportunities at the Prime Minister’s Office, wrote on Twitter: "A trans teenager died on Tuesday after taking her own life. The suicide rate of trans people is 7 times higher than the average. We absolutely must fight against transphobia, everywhere.”
The mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry, also tweeted, "I learned with great emotion and deep sadness the death of a transgender high school student in Lille. All my thoughts are with her relatives and her comrades.”
According to TÊTU, the director general of school education at the Ministry of Education, Edouard Geffray, said that sensitivity training about trans issues is included in the “moral and civic education programs for fifth, fourth, and third.”
However, students close to Avril shared that they never received such training.
Poet Marlène Ducasse posted a photo of the vigil, which took place outside Avirl’s former high school: “High school students from Fénelon and supporters from everywhere gathered this morning in front of [Avril’s] former high school,” she wrote, later adding that nearly 200 people attended.