TRANSGENDER DAY OF VISIBILITY
Global March 31 celebrations shine a light on the lives and challenges of trans and gender-diverse people
Transgender Day of Visibility is celebrated annually on March 31. In the context of discrimination and anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric in Africa, and globally, the day shines a light on the issues faced by the trans and gender-diverse community.
“It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen & visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.” — Laverne Cox
On March 31, Transgender Day of Visibility was celebrated internationally. According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (Glaad), the day celebrates the lives of trans and gender-diverse people while also bringing attention to the discrimination, inequality and violence facing the community.
Transgender Day of Visibility was begun in 2010 by Rachel Crandall, an international transgender activist, who hoped to “create a day where people could refocus on celebrating the lives of transgender people, empowering them to live authentically, while still acknowledging that due to discrimination, not every trans person can or wants to be visible”.
A report released by Beyond Zero, a local non-profit organisation, in 2021 showed that there are an estimated 179,000 transgender and gender-diverse people living in South Africa. Gender DynamiX (GDX) is an organisation founded in 2005 that is committed to “the development of the trans and gender diverse movement(s) in South Africa and across Africa”. It was the first registered public benefit organisation with a sole focus on the transgender and broader gender-diverse community based in Africa.
This year, on Transgender Day of Visibility, GDX launched its annual human rights report which aimed to give information and statistics that shed light on the human rights abuses experienced by trans and gender-diverse persons in 2022. Melody Seherrie, GDX’s community engagement coordinator, shared with Daily Maverick what Transgender Day of Visibility means to the organisation:
“Transgender Day of Visibility is a celebration for the organisation and its local, regional and international partners and beneficiaries. The day is celebrated raising awareness of discrimination and human rights violations faced by trans and gender-diverse persons.”
The GDX Report found that sexual and gender-based violence against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity is an increasing human rights concern. In South Africa, trans and gender-diverse persons experience higher levels of physical and sexual violence as well as domestic and intimate partner violence than their cisgender counterparts.
For example, GDX found that one in three trans women have experienced sexual violence in the past year compared to one in eight cisgender women. The report also found that 70% of trans and gender-diverse participants feel as though the violence experienced in their lives is directly linked to their gender expression and identity.
Importantly, it was found that trans and gender-diverse people were at heightened risk of human rights violations at the hands of the police and law enforcement, especially those who are sex workers. Trans and gender-diverse people in SA also experience denial of access to essential services, forced removal and destruction of property and discrimination in spaces of learning and education.
Leigh Ann van der Merwe was a keynote speaker at the GDX Transgender Day of Visibility event. Van der Merwe is an activist and founder of the Social, Health and Empowerment Feminist Collective of Transgender Women of Africa (SHE). She also serves on the Commission of Gender Equality (CGE). In her keynote speech, she noted how significant her election to the CGE is:
“It is historical for a trans woman of colour, from deep rural Transkei to be selected to the Commission of Gender Equality. I am standing on the shoulders of women who have done remarkable work, and I want to honour them tonight. In particular, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera who led the revolution for trans women.”
Johnson and Rivera are two US trans activists who were prominent figures in the Stonewall riots in 1969, which are often credited as a milestone in queer liberation efforts. A significant part of Van der Merwe’s address was acknowledging the plight of queer and trans people in Africa at the moment.
She noted: “Recently, we have seen a rollback on trans and gender-diverse rights on the African continent. This is not an African phenomenon. We have seen it; the rollback on the gains made in the United States with the denial of health for trans kids. It is very worrying that some of that is starting to spill on our continent and we are quiet and we are complacent about it. Uganda has reignited their 2014 attempt at introducing tougher legislation against the LGBTQIA+ community.”
Van der Merwe was referring to a law passed in the Ugandan Parliament on Tuesday, March 21 which would outlaw merely identifying as queer or any part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Not only is same-sex intercourse banned under this law, but it also bans the promotion of homosexuality as well as conspiracy to engage in homosexual activities.
“The international community continues to put pressure on President [Yoweri] Museveni to not sign the bill into legislation imposing these harsh realities for queer and trans persons,” Van der Merwe added.
The rest of her address highlighted just how revolutionary it is for trans and gender-diverse people to be given the right to live, and encouraged the activism advocating for the community to carry on, especially since queer rights are particularly endangered on our continent.
GDX’s Seherrie reminds those who do not identify as trans or gender-diverse that they can show support and solidarity for the community by “being respectful in a manner that affirms our humanity, respecting pronouns, gender identity and expression and not being judgmental”. DM