Health Policy Project

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Transgender Men in Uganda: What We Want You to Know—and Do
Jay Mulucha and Apako Williams
Jay Mulucha (L) and Apako Williams (R) speaking with Health Policy Project staff in Uganda. Photo by Health Policy Project

March 24, 2015

By Jay Mulucha and Apako Williams, FEM Alliance Uganda, TGNC-Uganda

As transgender men in Uganda, our lives have been filled with rejection, isolation, hostility, threats, homelessness, poverty, beatings, rape, mob violence, prison, and more. That’s why we were surprised when, a few weeks ago, we found ourselves facing a crowd of our countrymen and women who were … respectful, and even kind. One woman said she felt protective of us, as though we were her sons. What a difference from our usual experience.

What could cause such turnabout? That afternoon—and on several that followed—we served as panelists for a day-long workshop on gender and sexual diversity. The participants were U.S. Government staff and contractors in Uganda. By the time of our panel session each afternoon, that day’s participants had learned who gender and sexual minorities (GSM) are and had become familiar with U.S. laws and policies that prohibit discrimination against GSM in the workplace. They’d discussed the reasons—both moral and scientific—that HIV programs should include and support people like us. They’d listed the many hateful names that people call us, including those in local languages, and agreed not to use them. They’d laughed at the absurdity of some of the gender stereotypes we all carry.

And now it was our turn to speak for ourselves. The two of us, Jay and Apako, told our stories of violent homes, family-arranged rape and narrow escapes, expulsion from university, crushed dreams and wasted years; of depression, fear, crime, and drug addiction; and of more than 30 lost friends, now living in dreadful conditions as refugees who fled the country under the terror of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. We described a society—including the government, the media, and churches—that calls us unnatural, unAfrican, inhuman, taboo, mentally ill, and possessed by demons. We recalled horrific tragedies, like the recent death of a transman brother who was burnt by a mob—a fury no doubt incited by the hateful diatribes that surround us.

Yet on this day, as we spoke, our unusual situation was apparent. Already, the participants had opened their minds to new understandings of gender and sexuality, and had woven together empathy, logic, and facts to explore gender and sexual diversity within our country’s context. This created a room full of both generosity and curiosity. Our audience looked relieved and pleased to learn that GSM are not evil predators or monsters—but really just family members and neighbors and colleagues, humbly asking for the peace and space to live our lives and maybe even chase our dreams.

We value education, family and friends, homes, and the chance to earn our living and build professional careers. Although each of these things has been taken from us—and we could yet be killed—we’re still hopeful. We see our lives ahead of us.

This is a humble request to all those who read this: we need your full support so that we can continue our work on behalf of Uganda’s GSM. Harmful prejudices, often rooted in misconceptions, are all around us in Uganda. To raise awareness and promote the health and human rights of the country’s GSM, we cofounded two organizations: Fem Alliance Uganda and Uganda Network for Transgender and Gender non-Conforming Persons.

How can you help? By reading this you already are. Solidarity starts with acknowledgement, so share this with a friend or colleague. And please, keep on learning: gender and sexual minorities are a highly diverse group.

As for Uganda, we can use your support for efforts to increase access to healthcare, education, housing, jobs, and opportunities for GSM to grow and learn. Work with us to design and offer such opportunities. Speak out against proposed new laws that endanger human rights. We also seek to enroll in school so that the opportunities we are provided are based on merit and not merely our identities and sexual orientation. Let us all stand in solidarity, promoting peace and justice in Uganda—and the world.

Aluta Contenuea!

Resources on the gender and sexual diversity training, delivered under the USAID- and PEPFAR-funded Health Policy Project, are available here: www.healthpolicyproject.com/index.cfm?ID=GSDResources

 
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The Health Policy Project is a five-year cooperative agreement funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development under Agreement No. AID-OAA-A-10-00067, beginning September 30, 2010. The project's HIV-related activities are supported by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). It is implemented by Futures Group, in collaboration with Plan International USA, Avenir Health (previously Futures Institute), Partners in Population and Development, Africa Regional Office (PPD ARO), Population Reference Bureau (PRB), RTI International, and White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood (WRA). The information provided on this Web site is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

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