Trans and intersex Kenyans have banded together to create a better future for themselves. But first they need to survive the perils of the Covid-19 lockdown — and they are asking you to help them.
Second of two articles about trans life in Kenya during the Covid-19 lockdown. The first article was “Trans Kenyans ‘extremely vulnerable’ during lockdown”.
Two members of the Trans* Support network in western Kenya make their appeal for help in videos (above and below) ). Their faces are blurred for their protection.
To contribute, click HERE.
In the video above, Emmanuel (Emma), a trans woman, tells of the impact of the pandemic on the trans community: Because of Covid-19, “we are jobless and we can’t support ourselves by paying our house rent. … We are starving and sleeping hungry.” A transcript of Emma’s remarks is HERE.
In the video toward the end of this article, Cymoo Emarion Lihanda, who has both male and female characteristics (in other words, is intersex), tells how the Covid-19 lockdown put an end to her work in local markets and how her life has been jeopardized by poverty and by hostility from family and neighbors. A transcript of Lihanda’s remarks is HERE.
Homeless, jobless, under threat
In western Kenya, evictions and rejections have left three trans and one intersex person homeless, the advocacy group Trans* Support reports. Another 12 LGBT Kenyans are jobless with no hope of employment during the current anti-Covid-19 lockdown.
Mauricio Ochieng’ Ochieng’, the founder of Trans* Support, established the organization to advocate for safe spaces for intersex, trans and gender non-conforming (ITGNC) people in western Kenya. Those LGBTQ+ community members have suffered from “physical assaults, threats and intimidation, sexual harassment, blackmail and extortion, rejections and evictions” during the lockdown, Ochieng’ said.
“Recently a case of physical assaults was reported but we couldn’t manage to access legal process due to lack of money for the medical examination, safe house for the survivors of violence and abuse, psycho-social support due to their mental health … and relocation to the safe environment,” Ochieng’ added.
An important goal of Trans* Support is to provide entrepreneurship training and help in developing or resuming income-generating activities since many of the group’s members are jobless and depend on sex work, Ochieng’ said.
“Most trans* individuals have been affected by Covid-19 since they were depending on small business which they cannot manage right now.”
Trans* Support has been providing food for those who have been evicted and assaulted, as well as working ensure them access to health care, including hormones for those who are transitioning. See receipt here for groceries already purchased.
Led by Ochieng’, the organization has 35 members, as well as three secretariat members and four board members.
To contribute, click HERE.
Ochieng’ has been working with Lihanda since 2014 when she was abused by a family member while Ochieng’ was working as human rights defender at the west Kenyans LGBT advocacy network NYARWEK. Lihanda has been a target of threats, verbal abuses, blackmail and extortion, Ochieng’ said. For protection, she had to stay at a safe house for a while. After struggling with her gender identity, she eventually came out as intersex.
Hello. I’m Cymoo Emarion Lihanda. I’m born an intersex person. I came from Kisumu County, Nyakach Sub-County, Pap Onditi location. This is a rural area where I came from. I stayed here and I’m struggling here.
I can say that during this Covid-19 stay-in-place we are suffering in this area because, as an intersex person, it is not easy to get any services, even to get any support from this community because we have not been accepted from this area and we don’t have jobs. We have nothing to do. Now this Covid-19 situation: We have been closed indoors. They don’t want us to walk out. They don’t want us to mingle out, even do anything outside. So now we have a tough life. So now we don’t have money. I don’t know how I can pay my rent. I don’t know how I can buy food. I don’t have food. I don’t have (inaudible). And I don’t have water, because this water we are buying with money. But if you don’t have money where am I going to get my food? Where am I going to get rental housing.
This is a tough life and I don’t know what I can do because I don’t have any place to go.
I have been rejected by my family, even by my community and relatives. They rejected me because I am born an intersex person. They said I am not like a normal person. They don’t know me and I am afraid. They want to kill me.
So I don’t know what to do. I don’t have anywhere to go. I have nothing to do.
So I myself would like to request any support. Who can help me, please? May good will help you through Mauricio Ochieng’ here. He’s the one who knows me, who understands me, and who can support me in any issue that I have been faced. So thank you, any person or any other group that can help an intersex person who came from interior area — remote — please. I will accept, I will appreciate and God may bless you. Thank you.
Emma was one of the leaders of the west Kenyan advocacy group NYARWEK, where she was a human rights defender and security specialist. She also founded the OutStar transgender organization in the Busia area.
This is an approximate transcript of Emma’s video:
I am called Emmanuel, from Busia Country, Matayos Sub-County, Busiba Sub-Location. My gender pronoun am she/her. I am a transgender woman living in the rural area, Busia.
The Covid-19 situation has really affected transgenders living in the rural area, where we don’t have anything to do. We don’t have money. Some of us who are paying rent, the situation affected us. We were not able to continue paying rent. This has forced us to come back to stay in the village and stay with our parents.
This situation is really affecting us. We don’t have a place. We are starving. We are sleeping hungry. We are crying out, “Help us in this situation” I take this opportunity to appreciate and to thank Mauricio Ochieng’ Ochieng’ for standing with the transgender (ITGNC) community in the rural area, for the small support so they will be able to take something for their table. Thank you.
To contribute, click HERE.