28 August 2017, Uganda
Anna* is a transgender woman and activist for trans rights in Uganda. She recently came to Johannesburg to attend the Iranti Leadership and Wellness training, and we managed to speak to her about the work she is doing in Uganda around LGBTI rights.
“Due to restrictions in Uganda, advocacy organisations are very tactful in their interactions with authorities,” says Anna. “One of the problems is that we have very few allies in government and in the media. This makes activism very challenging.”
Anna’s own personal journey has been challenging.
In 2012 she found herself expelled from school. “I was found kissing a guy during night-prep classes, so they expelled us both,” explains Anna, “Of course they decided we were gay”.
The result was that Anna was unable to complete her schooling. Her family disowned her, and forced her to move out of the family home.
In order to support herself as a young 17-year-old on her own, Anna became a sex worker. “I had to look for money to survive. In fact I am still as sex worker, as I earn very little money from my work as an activist.”
Her journey as an activist started with Anna met the director of Transgender Equality Uganda while attending a sex worker support meeting. In search of more transgender individuals to join their group, Anna found herself unexpectedly in the world of queer activism. Transgender Equality Uganda works to advocate for the rights of trans individuals. The organisation also endeavours to educate communities and families on matters of gender identity, with a particular focus on families who have rejected their transgender children.
The journey of her activism is mirrored by her personal struggle with her family, Anna is now on good terms with her mother and brother. “They finally came to accept who I am.”
Another focal point of the work of Transgender Equality Uganda is the group’s advocacy efforts to improve access to healthcare and sensitisation of medical professionals. This is critical as all too often transgender Ugandans face discrimination in clinics and hospitals.
A major achievement has been the establishment of a clinic where trans women can access services freely and without discrimination. This clinic is a first, and access to resources and continued government scrutiny remains a challenge for the activists. “One of our aims at the moment is to get information about the clinic to sex workers, as it is a place where no one judges anyone,” says Anna.
Anna continues to hide her identity for her own safety, but hopes for a future where gender-diverse Ugandans can exist safely and freely. She also hopes for a time where there will be easy access to hormones. Until then, Anna and her team continue to work and support the transgender and intersex communities of Uganda.
Anna does not want what happened to her to be the experience of transgender people in the future.
“I didn’t complete my studies just because of who I am. It is going to take time, because so many people think trans women are just gay. They see you calling yourself a woman and think you’re a bastard or something,” says Anna.
“I have had to fight for every right I have. And I will continue to fight for the rights of other trans people in my country. I will not give up this fight,” says Anna.
[Name has been changed for security purposes]