African Trans Sex Workers Speak on Life, Work and Activism

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Regional Correspondent Africa

There are unique challenges for African trans sex workers in their lives and work. Two trans sex workers in Uganda and South Africa have shared the unique challenges they face, including transphobia. ASWA board member and trans sex worker from Uganda, Beyonce Karungi as well as refugee trans sex worker, Flavina from South Africa, have both shared their life stories in articles published recently. Talking to GroundUp Flavina discussed moving to South Africa where she is now doing outreach to other trans sex workers.

Flavina, who transitioned while in South Africa, fled her home due to transphobia. She now works with SWEAT to do outreach to other trans sex workers. “I was out from the age of 16. When I was 18, I told my family I had feelings for men. That is my truth, my life. You can accept it or not, this is my decision. But it is not easy with the culture in Burundi. When you are born a boy, your family thinks you are special. You are the man of the house and represent the heritage of the family. When people find out about your sexuality, they think you are Satan and bring bad luck," she told GroundUp.

After a great deal of struggle in 2009, she was granted asylum in South Africa. This opened her to her current outreach work with sex workers, which include health talks and human rights trainings. “I feel that with that group you can speak out, share your secrets and the pain in your heart. When I am at SWEAT, I feel like I am at home. We listen and encourage each other,” she told GroundUp.

Flavina is also part of SistaazHood, a female trans sex worker support group that was formed to reach out to trans sex workers. Meanwhile, in Uganda, Beyonce Karungi with Transgender Equality Uganda, advocates for the rights of transgender sex workers. Writing for Kuchu Times, Ms Karungi says she faced rejection when she came out. “I was not accepted at home, in the community and by the government. Civilians and police would beat me up because I am transgender. When I was beaten very badly, my friends would take me to the hospital for treatment of my wounds. Even my own family was not okay with my identity. My dad told my school teachers that I feared boys,” she wrote in her article.

Karungi said she has been a sex worker for years despite the abuses she has faced in her work and hopes that things will change for the better. “There is no real protection for transgender person in most African countries, our governments can say that they are protecting rights of gender minorities but from our own lenses and lived realities, there is no such a thing as protection of trans gender human rights in most countries including my own – Uganda,” she notes in her piece to Kuchu Times.

NSWP also echoes the necessity of addressing the needs of trans sex workers. In a NSWP 2014 briefing paper on Trans Sex Work, the NSWP stated trans sex workers “face an unacceptably high degree of multiple levels of stigma and discrimination.”

NSWP recommended that there was a “need to support the advocacy and activism of trans sex workers groups around the world,” but also repeal laws that are used to target trans sex workers including those on cross-dressing.