Transgender Africa – The Forgotten People

There are no transgender people in Africa. This is the lie that Victor Mukasa fights against on a daily basis. Imagine coming out twice in a country where physical abuse and even rape may be the only reply as you first say that you are a lesbian, and secondly admit that you are transgender. This was a reality for Victor Mukasa, and continues to be so for hundreds of transgender people in Africa who are frequently robbed of a voice.

In a brilliant interview with The Advocate this week, Victor Mukasa talks about being one of the most wanted women, and now men, in Uganda, and how his heart will always be dedicated to helping fellow Ugandan transgender, gay and lesbian people to find solace in a nation where there are strict gender roles and heavy punishment for breaking such prescriptions.

I urge anyone with an interest in human rights or LGBT rights to read this interview because, amongst other insightful observations, he makes one very clear, very true declaration on the topic of securing LGBT rights:

“It looks like [LGBT people] are free in Toronto, but you wont be free until everybody is free… some people don’t see the hope of freedom, but if we work together there is hope for freedom everywhere.”

Click here to read this exclusive Advocate interview with Victor Mukasa.

Who Is Victor Mukasa?
Victor Mukasa is the chairperson for the group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) as well as often being involved with the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (often, rather tellingly, shortened to the ILGA). You can find out more about the work that the ILGA does in the International Human Rights for LGBTs field by clicking here.

Victor Mukasa often speaks at conferences and carries out interviews to discuss what life is like in Africa for gay, lesbian and transgender people. As a speech he gave as part of an ILGA Panel on the 23/10/2006 suggests, he is often fighting against the entrenched gender limitations of the country, “These rules to govern our behavior are socially constructed, meaning that they are not “natural”, they are rules made up by people, sometimes with horrible punishments for not following them.”

Mukasa knows firsthand those awful punishments. He fled Uganda and launched a lawsuit against police there who, when he had begun to speak out as a transgender person in 2005, raided his home and took documents appertaining to his efforts as a transgender activist. They then began to systematically spread the word that he was a wanted man for a range of crimes relating to his gender identity and sexual practices.

In December 2008 Mukasa won his legal case and was awarded the sum of 13 million shillings (about $6,000) – the victory was less than gratifying however, as the government, whilst saying they would not appeal the decision, said that clearly their needed to be stronger rules against homosexuality in order to prevent its citizens from getting into this kind of situation.

What Do Transgender People In Africa Face?
Unlike in the US, there are no protections given to Transgender people in Africa. Victor details specific instances of human rights violations in various interviews, but a couple are as follows:

  • Being raped to prove your gender identity as a woman and not a man.
  • Being denied housing because of your reputation as a transgender man or woman.
  • Being unable to secure a passport due to their being little to no provisions for dealing with transgender people.
  • Being ostracized from your community and left destitute with few places to turn to.

There are many more, including alleged intimidation by the police and also abuses from certain church communities who will name and shame those they suspect of being lesbian or gay and will also take it upon themselves to identify transgender people so that the can exorcise them. This is not helped by the fact that the African Commission frequently dodges confronting human rights issues when it comes to LGBT persons.

What Can You Do To Help Transgender People In Africa?
Homosexuality is still illegal in Uganda with a possible life sentence if convicted, as well as daily intimidation and torture. For transgender people, well, they are the ill defined population; not specifically legislated against they have no way to defend themselves either. They are often considered mentally ill or, worse, possessed.

You can help by simply spreading the word that there are transgender people in Africa, as well as transexuals (of whom there is little known about, even in African medical circles), who suffer greatly because they are not recognized by their state and, unfortunately, are often overlooked by the rest of the world. 

Visibility, whilst also coming with inherent dangers, may be the only way to help a people who, like Victor Mukasa, are forced to flee their place of origin because of the oppression and hostility that they face. Talk about their existence. Let the world know. This is a first step.

Furthermore, you can take direct action and sign this Care2 petition to add your voice to the 30,000 plus who have called for an end to the “corrective” rape of lesbians in Africa, a practice which effects transgender individuals also.


Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Jaume d'Urgell.

13 comments

Gen I.
Gen I.8 years ago

Regarding Jeffrey W's comment:

"There really are no transgender people in Africa - or anywhere else. Sex is genetically determined and the genes cannot be changed. There are people with surgically mutilated bodies, but their sex remains the same."

Actually, that is so much BULLCRAP...
Transgender and Transsexual people exist in Africa and in multitudes of places.
You choose to ignore them because they do not fit your very narrow-minded views on sex/gender.
In the part of your statement: "...really are no transgender people..." you confused sex determination with gender. Gender Identity is between one's ears, not the genetalia, nor within chromosomes.

A person's sex is made up of a lot more factors than either chromosomes or genitalia.
To wit:
The following articles regarding "Brain Sex"

"Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus"
http://jcem.endojournals.org/cgi/content/full/85/5/2034

"Regional gray matter variation in male-to-female transsexualism"
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WNP-4VYP950-7&_user=10&_coverDate=07/15/2009&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor&view=c&_searchStrId=1294395155&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=2bd058cd03f1149f30d13d83cca46cd5

There other scientific/medical journals and articles that we can point to.
Also look at Intersex people

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Cynthia E.
Cynthia E.9 years ago

Why do ppl not love? I can't understand the lack of love and tolerance. What business is it of anyone what someone has between their legs? That is personal. Ppl are all beautiful in their own way. Why can't we love each other for the beauty of each of our uniqueness? Why can't we embrace the diffrences in one another? Is it gang mentality? PPl trying to impress other ppl by proving they can be mean? Enemy spelled backward is y mene. Y mean? Why are we mean? Our enemy is us. Why are we mean to us? What good does it do? Cheap thrills? That is why I am such a supporter of hate crime legislation & grateful Obama signed it into law. PPl need to know hate crimes are a worse thing than just regular crime. Teach means to evoke. We need to evoke love & compassion. This is what will boost us into the enlightened critical mass of mind over matter glory. There is no they, there is no them. There is us. Let's look into us & find our most valient qualities and evoke them. Let's evoke them in every instance. Be happy, joyful & see/be it everywhere. Unconditional love is the path. The monster (or Beast as Dwight above wrote) can melt under unconditional love. Let us see love, be love, show love, give love, need love & only remain love for all moments, all times, all instances. Hitler, Satan, Mansen & more were still loved because they are part of God. We must love everything & everyone. That is the only way we will surpass.
I love you reader, Your's, Cynthia E f

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jamilah s.
jamilah s9 years ago

I don't see this as a issue of sex or sexual preference. This is really a human rights issue. No human being should be treated badly, violated, and abused for who he is or even his choices. Whether Victor Mukasa is straight, gay, transgender, amophrodite,.is irrelevant, human rights are being violated.

We live is communities. There are rules and laws in communities. Sometimes we have challenges so that we can change how we think and operate in all aspects of life. I cannot judge what the purpose of God is behind this situation, but I do know; No matter how I feel about homosexuality, transgenders, lesbians, whatever, i cannot treat any of them with malice intent or actions. That is a crime against God!

Peace, love, and light!

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Lana T.
L T9 years ago

To Jeffrey, and to others who are talking about something else entirely:

You talk about "sex" being the stable identity, yet we are talking about "gender" - as in trans "gender" - not sex. Gender is the identity that is attached to sex; those extra societal labels we attach. In terms of sex, woman = female genitals. In terms of gender, woman = passive, likes looking traditionally feminine, is over emotional. Since I know plenty of "women" who don't "identify" with those characteristics, gender identity can change. This is apparent in the way that notions of womanhood, and manhood, have changed over time. I certainly don't identify with the characteristics of 18th century Western women!

Sure, my sex (i.e. genitalia, genes) dictates that I am a female. Yet, because I don't identify with being a woman (passivity, pink, dresses), my "gender identity" is different.

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Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W9 years ago

There really are no transgender people in Africa - or anywhere else. Sex is genetically determined and the genes cannot be changed. There are people with surgically mutilated bodies, but their sex remains the same.

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Walter G.
Walter G9 years ago

Ignorance feeds on prejudice.

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Heather A.
Heather A9 years ago

It must take an incredible amount of courage for him to stand up to an unfair government and a violent society. I wish Victor all the best.

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Tammy Hernandez
Tammy Hernandez9 years ago

this is outrageous people like homosexuals and transgenders are discriminated against everyday not only in Africa but in china, Brazil, mexico, and even america to, people may pretend that the discrimination isn't there but it is and it is wrong to but these people shouldn't be discriminated against because its not a choice they are born this way they want to express it by certain matters besides just like my parents say 'GENDER DOESN'T MATTER" it been passed down from generations, because love doesn't have a shape, form, race, color and gender its simply the kind passionate love.

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roberto c.
robert m9 years ago

America has gone way far and out of the line with this descrimination it just pisses me of so much i will not tolerate descrimination and there needs to be something done to protect all people out there SPEAK UP AMERICA FOR ALL PEOPLE

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Rhonda B.
Rhonda B9 years ago

America is far from immune to trans discrimination. Even the gay and lesbian communities and some open and accepting churches have a history of non-acceptance of trannies. And every year some young transwoman/man is murdered because he/she is found out. It is just that in the underdeveloped world, the discrimination is legal,blatant and government sanctioned. Who does Uganda think more laws will protect its people from? Themselves?

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