18 Nov Being LGBT in Southern Africa
From the Southern African region point of view, homogenization and invisibility of trans lives is still a challenge and fails to highlight the importance of trans specific research, thus making data unavailable. Most often, these challenges have serious consequences in trans people’s access to health, be it trans-specific health or health in general. Trans specific health assistance pertains to various issues ranging from combating stigma, legal and socio-political discrimination, vulnerability to HIV and other psycho-social health issues, alienation and discrimination within schools and workplaces, gender based violence, mental health and the depathologization of trans bodies in the legal and health systems, and in society in general. Health issues in trans lives do not work as independent factors, instead, are inherently bound with legal, educational, stigmatized and discriminatory systems that intersect with each other and have serious health consequences for trans persons.
There are a lot of challenges based on lack of knowledge of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression issues where transgender issues are still mistaken for sexual orientation issues and not seen as gender identity. This goes to an extend where members of the trans community get arrested for homosexual behaviors. Lack of information creates a lot of challenges for the trans diverse community, not only for the service providers but for the community itself who are only exposed to being gay or lesbian.
Additionally, lack of legal recognition for the trans and gender non-conforming individuals and access to proper identity documents with gender markers that match our physical appearance makes it difficult to access services and exposes the community to a lot of human rights violations. These violations include harassment by immigration officers and health care workers in public spaces. That is why the trans diverse community in Southern Africa has a embarked on a milestone initiative of building the trans movement (Southern Africa Trans Forum) to collectively reduce trans human rights violations. All these challenges result in economic exclusion of the trans community which forces them to sex work that exposes them to HIV and STIs which the HIV policies are ignorant of.
Much as I feel privileged to have grown up in a supportive family that is open to diversity and is accepting, I share the same challenges of the trans diverse community in Southern Africa as some of them affect me directly and emotionally as my daily work is to deal with these issues. Further, my family is blessed with two trans-identifying individuals, me and my younger brother, who is a prominent activist. Not only our immediate family, but the extended too has shown much love and support. It is interesting to work with and for the community that you are a part of. Sometimes, the challenge is dealing deeply with emotions as the issues are personal to you.