CHICAGO — Life as a transgender individual in Africa is exceedingly difficult. Thapelo Makutle, for example, was found with his throat slit after having won a Miss Gay pageant in South Africa. Victor Mukasa is another individual who fights the stigma surrounding transgendered individuals living in Africa.
There is, however, growing optimism. Tampase Mapotheng is one individual who, like Mukasa, is trying to raise awareness for the LGBTI community.
“I’m from Lesotho. I’m a human rights defender. I’m a transsexual man,” said Thapelo, when NPR asked about his identity.
This past July, Thapelo, who was born as a girl, came to the America for the first time. Thapelo is part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), a community that is focused on increasing relations between Africa and America. Thapelo is one of only a few members in the group who do not focus on economic development. Instead, he is dedicated to human rights, specifically the LGBTI community.
While Thapelo has had doubts since he was a small child, it was not until four years ago that he publicly and personally identified himself as a man. He cites the lack of education about the issue as being the main reason for his prolonged inaction.
After coming out Thapelo faced many hardships. His parents kicked him out of their house and friends turned their backs on him. Strangers in the community turned hostile. Discrimination was rampant.
Mukasa, who fled his country after being accused of gender-related identity crimes and subsequently sued and won $6000 in a court battle, listed many of the discriminatory practices he was faced with. They include, but are not limited to:
- 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.
Across Africa, such violations are alarmingly common. In Uganda, an anti-homosexuality act was passed in February 2014 but was struck down in the first week of August. The victory, however sweet, can hardly be called progress: the only reason it happened at all was a lack of a quorum. The ruling leaves open the possibility that another version of the bill might pass into law.
Individuals like Thapelo and Victor are part of the bold new face of the transgender movement in Africa who are paving the way for future generations of transgender people.
– Andrew Rywak
Sources: NPR, Care 2, NBC News, New Yorker