To find out more about the group and its aims and ambitions, Melissa Wainaina of Behind the Mask spoke to Gullit a founding member.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
Please tell us a little about the group and how it began?
Ushirikiano Panda (UP) was formed in the late 2011. It’s the baby in the local sexual minority groups.
The name means climbing together in Kiswahili and this project will help build solidarity and self-development in the intersex and transgender (IT) community in Kenya.
Intersex persons are those born with ambiguous genitals or hormonal composition and are not easily classified as ‘male’ or ‘female’.
Transgender persons are individuals who feel that their assigned gender does not correspond with their body.
The intersex and transgender persons face ridicule, insensitive questions, face discrimination and are misunderstood in the LGBTI community. Much of this insensitivity is due to ignorance.
I first thought of forming UP while in Rwanda on a work placement. My partner and I and some colleagues talked through the idea of starting a project that would help intersex and transgender people to be proud of themselves and their gender identity.
On my return to Nairobi, I met with the few IT persons who didn’t feel like they fit into the existing LGBTI organisations. So we started our own group.
This is also when I decided to come out as a Trans boy. I lived as a lesbian previously because most of my LGB friends did not accept Trans persons, and identifying as a lesbian made it easier to feel like I was part of the community.
Living has Trans boy is not going to be easy, but I feel it is the right step.
The group was originally formulated around the experiences of two IT people living in Kenya: Myself a Trans boy and Sydney Etemesi who is intersex. But since then, we have met and discussed with more IT persons and are learning more about ourselves.
It’s important for us that UP is led by IT persons however we have a few supporting allies who are members of the queer community. We’ve been getting a lot of support from Fahamu, a Pan-African social justice organization, and are in discussions with them to see how we can partner as UP is being established.
So is Ushirikiano Panda member based? And what are your current numbers?
The group will be member-based, but right now we’re in the process of outreach. We are targeting reach IT persons in areas where LGBTI organizations don’t usually reach, especially slums and ghetto areas.
It is a slow process, especially because those living in the ghetto are more at risk of violence than those in middle-class areas if they come out or are outed.
So far we have about 10 intersex and transgender people who are interested in joining but we are yet to hold our first meeting as a group which is slated for end of March.
What plans does the group intend to undertake?
UP plans to create a space for intersex and transgender people living in Nairobi to get counselling, create support groups, carry out advocacy with LGBTI groups and do research on medical and social services available to IT persons.
Professional counselling is important as a lot of us have been harassed, abused, suffered violence and faced rejection. We need to have a space where we can deal with these traumas and learn to accept ourselves.
Some sessions will involve parents and relatives of IT persons, knowing very well that stigma often starts at home as many IT persons get deep damage from their families.
Support groups will allow IT people to come together and discuss challenges and successes and support each other in all areas of our lives. We never had a space where we could simply discuss our lives amongst ourselves without the fear of rejection or stigma.
UP also plans to carry out advocacy with LGBTI groups so that they can be friendlier and more inclusive of IT persons in their programs.
We also have a unique need to access medical services to help some of our members transition (change their bodies to reflect their gender), so that they can live and be recognized as their true gender.
Hormone therapy and surgery can help intersex and transgender people transition, but most of us have no idea where to access this and know the cost implications.
UP intends to carry out research on the availability of friendly medical services, as well as the process of changing gender on identity documents in Kenya.
We intend to create a resource guide aimed towards IT people who desperately need information specific to Kenya.
Is the anything that the group would like to share the community? Events? Plans? Programmes and so on?
We are really excited to get started so that we can change the perception that people have of IT people, and also build ourselves up as a community. We have a Facebook page open to both IT people and allies, where we will be posting news about our upcoming programs. Join by searching for Ushirikiano Panda. You may also contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.