Harvard Kennedy School student Rodrigo Ventocilla Ventosilla remembered as a ‘fighter’ for trans rights | New

When Rodrigo Ventocilla Ventosilla was not studying at the Harvard Kennedy School library, he enjoyed feeding his HKS friends and classmates at study group dinners with traditional home-cooked meals from his native Peru.

The last spring semester study group dinner was hosted by a classmate from China who cooked a meal of hotpot, but more than an hour after the original meeting time, Ventocilla had disappeared. .

He finally arrived at the hotpot dinner, late, but with a dish of his own: Peruvian arroz con pollo, a traditional dish of chicken and rice.

“He arrived late because he was still preparing [it]said Ana Rocío Castillo Romero, Ventocilla’s friend who was part of the study group. “He wanted to share the arroz con pollo.”

“So we make room in the table, we put the arroz con pollo right next to the fondue, Castillo said. “That was delicious.”

Rodrigo Ventocilla was born in Lima, Peru on July 7, 1990. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Ventocilla, a transgender man, was a trans rights activist in Peru, where he also worked for the country’s Ministry of Education and Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Ventocilla died on August 11 while in police custody at a hospital in Denpasar, Indonesia, where he was traveling on honeymoon with his wife, Sebastián Marallano. His family claim he was beaten and discriminated against by police in Bali. Indonesian authorities have denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

‘A fighter’

Ana Ventosilla, Ventocilla’s mother, said her son spent the first 40 days of his life in an incubator because she gave birth when she was only six months pregnant.

Ventocilla has been “a fighter” since he was very young, Ventosilla said.

“We went every day to pray to the Virgin so that she could save [him] because [he] was born prematurely,” Ventosilla said in an interview last month. “And the doctor told me that [he] was a fighter for [his] life because [he] got ahead.

Later in life, Ventocilla became a fighter for LGBTQ+ people in Peru.

Ventocilla had been an LGBTQ+ activist since his college days, when he asked his mother for permission to drive their old car to attend LGBTQ+ rights protests, Ventosilla said.

“I got scared and said [him]: ‘You will go, but please be careful,’” Ventosilla said. “I even accompanied [him] sometimes, and [he] always had support, love and acceptance.

In June 2015, after graduating from college, Ventocilla co-founded a trans rights organization, Diversidades Trans Masculinas.

Morgan K. Benson, a 2022 Kennedy School graduate, said a big part of Ventocilla’s activism is helping trans people find inclusive spaces.

“That’s how the DTM started,” said Benson, referring to Diversidades Trans Masculinas. “He wanted people who needed community with each other to be able to have that.”

“We loved each other”

Ventocilla met Sebastián Marallano when he was launching Diversidades Trans Masculinas. While they knew each other in the world of activism and shared mutual friends, their “final” meeting was at a party in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood, Marallano said in an interview this month. .

“At that time, I had a crush on Rodrigo,” Marallano said. “I loved it.”

After Marallano spotted Ventocilla at the party, a friend told them to approach Ventocilla and confess their feelings for him.

Marallano took the advice.

“At first he didn’t believe me,” Marallano said. “He asked me if I was joking and I told him no, that I was serious, that I wanted to get to know him.”

Rodrigo Ventocilla with his wife, Sebastián Marallano.

During At a rally for Ventocilla in Boston on Sept. 4, Vic Hogg, an HKS student in the class of 2023, said they remembered how he would speak openly about his love for Marallano.

One such time happened at a meeting of the “queer heartbreak club,” a group formed by Hogg and a few friends who were going through breakups at the time.

“We had spent all this time talking about our depression and blah, blah, blah,” Hogg said with a laugh. “Then Rodrigo came over and just started saying how much he was in love with Sebastián and how he was so excited for everything that was to come and so excited for the celebration that they were going to be able to have.”

After the end of the spring semester, Ventocilla and Marallano traveled to Chile, where they were married on May 25.

“One of the reasons we wanted to get married – besides the fact that we loved each other – was because we wanted to have the option that I could go to Cambridge,” Marallano said.

But Marallano, who lived in Peru while Ventocilla was spending his first year at HKS University, said they never had the chance to visit Ventocilla in Cambridge because they couldn’t get a visa.

“Rodri was brave”

Colleagues from Peru and friends at Harvard Kennedy School remembered Ventocilla as an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and a dedicated student who spent many hours focused on his work.

Rocio Béjar, who was Ventocilla’s boss when he worked in Peru’s economy and finance ministry, said he was “passionate” and “a very good worker”.

Rodrigo Ventocilla, pictured in a Polaroid photograph outside Harvard Kennedy School.

Béjar said getting a master’s degree at Harvard was Ventocilla’s “dream,” but his goal was always to return to Peru.

“He wanted to come back – always – to do something for his country,” Béjar said.

Ventocilla brought his studious nature to Harvard, where he would study all the time at the Kennedy School library, according to Benson, who graduated from HKS in 2022.

“I wish we had more memories together because a lot of the year he was in the library,” Benson said. “He studied there and he did it all the time.”

Benson said one of his favorite memories with Ventosilla was a trip to Palestine during spring break, which inspired Ventocilla to think about ways he could “stand in solidarity with Palestine” in his future work as a filmmaker. organization.

“It was a really intense trip, but the only day we had that was more relaxed was going to the Dead Sea,” said Benson, who was roommates with Ventocilla during the trip. “We swam and I got my foot cut off, which he was so kind of.”

During their trip with Palestine Trek, Rodrigo Ventocilla Ventosilla and Morgan Benson visited the Dead Sea.
During their trip with Palestine Trek, Rodrigo Ventocilla Ventosilla and Morgan Benson visited the Dead Sea. By Courtesy of Morgan Benson

During his freshman year at HKS, Ventocilla ran for Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Anti-Racism in Kennedy School Student Government. In a post announcing her campaign, Ventocilla wrote that “working on diversity, equity and inclusion, especially LGBT advocacy,” has been one of her passions since college.

“Through my experience as a public sector worker and LGBT activist in Peru, I know that issues of racism, sexism, colonialism do not belong on the fringe, they should be at the center of what we learn and do at HKS, and after,” Ventocilla wrote at the time.

Ana Rocío Castillo Romero, Ventocilla’s classmate at HKS and former colleague from Peru, wrote in a text message that Ventocilla “always fought for his beliefs, who he was and his right[s].”

“Rodri was brave,” Castillo wrote. “Although he didn’t succeed, that didn’t stop him from pursuing his fight and his ideals.”

—Editor Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

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