Started in 2009, Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) was added to the LGBTI calendar not only to create awareness about transgender issues and discrimination, but more importantly, to celebrate the lives of transgender people.
As most media attention is focused on the murders of transgender people and the discrimination they face, the visibility of transgender people is celebrated as it is a sign of the strides made in society in the acceptance of transgender people and the furthering of their rights. The ability of some trans people to be visible is a celebration where many trans people need to hide their identity in order to be safe.
“Being visible for those who can’t be”, the slogan attached to and stemming from TDOV, is a movement by visible trans people to proudly claim their identity, create awareness among cisgender people that trans people exist, to celebrate their ability to live with relatively less fear of violence than certain sectors of the trans community, and to bring attention to issues faced by those who bear the brunt of society’s violence and discrimination.
Trans women of colour are the most targeted sector of the transgender community. Since the 1980s, the murder of trans women of colour has increased from 2 to over 150 in 2017. Of course these are only the murders that are reported by the media and attributed to hate crimes. These statistics are mostly from Europe, America and South America, with no statistics from Africa. The number of deaths of black trans women is thus much higher than these statistics indicate.
In Africa, where homosexuality is under the spotlight, most hate crimes against and murders of transgender people are attributed to the victims being gay. The fact that “transgender” is a Western word and that there is no equivalent for it in any African language also skews the awareness of discrimination specifically aimed at transgender people.
The number of visible transgender people in Africa is therefore much less than in other parts of the world, meaning that trans people in Africa mostly only have Western examples of visible trans people to look up to. This is problematic as the lived reality of transgender people in Africa is very different to other countries, and with the media attention focusing on Western countries, the systemic prejudice and resultant violence faced by African transgender women and people goes unnoticed.
At Pan Africa ILGA, we celebrate those visible African transgender people who put their lives at risk by fighting for transgender rights on the continent. We celebrate the wins for transgender rights in countries like Botswana and South Africa, and we continue to work with activists and organisations throughout Africa to create awareness of the human rights travesties that transgender people face.
And we call on Africans to celebrate visible transgender African people so that the trans youth have role models, have hope, have – in the midst of the violence and the fear – the knowledge that there is the possibility to live and make a life in this world as a transgender person.