Malawi: Protests, persecution and improvements: life as a transwoman

“There was a demo earlier this year, ‘Christians Against Homosexuality and Abortion’. I didn’t know my mum was one of the protesters until I received WhatsApp messages from my friends,” says Shy. “They sent me pictures of my mother carrying placards, saying ‘homosexuality is a sin’ and various other things. I felt sick, I was traumatised.”

Shy doesn’t blame her mother though, recognising that the influence of the church and religious and traditional leaders is powerful. “If our village head man and religious leaders could be taught what it’s like to be gay* then it could become much easier for us,” says Shy. “It starts with them.”

Forced out of business

When word got round the church that Shy’s mum had been at the demo, it gave the perception that she had “no backing” and some people decided to exploit this by taking the opportunity to vent their homophobia, or transphobia, towards her.

“People started coming to my shebeen [small bar/café]. They attacked my shop, saying ‘we don’t want any gays here’, and ‘you’re here to teach this to the little ones’,” she sighs. “Up until now business is not going well. I’ve decided to close just now.”

Tragically for Shy, her business is not the only loss she’s dealing with, as she’s still grieving the death of her father last year. Yet despite these extremely challenging times she also feels she’s gained in other aspects of her life.

Facing the challenge of transphobia

The support of local community-based organisation Community Health Rights Advocacy (CHeRA) has given Shy support in facing her challenges. Shy, and others, receive information and encouragement, but it’s more than just information, it’s a network of friends with genuine empathy. While empathy is invaluable, they also want concrete change, so that there’s tangible improvement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI) in Malawi. So CHeRA is also working towards removing barriers which prevent LGBTI people from accessing HIV services. Read more via AIDS Alliance