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  • Writer's pictureKyle Kvamme

The Fight Continues – a displaced trans woman from Uganda advocates for the needs of the transgender community

Emmalia's face lights up when she begins to talk about her family. "I grew up in a very loving family. My family has been supportive of me...they never neglected me. They never pushed me aside because of my gender identity," she says. 

Emmalia, a transgender woman, was born and raised in Uganda. Her face beams brightly as she speaks fondly of her life there. She worked as a paralegal for the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) and advocated for the transgender community in Uganda at Transgender Equality Uganda.   

"I love serving the community...I have love and passion for the transgender community," she explains. At HRAPF, Emmalia expanded on her trans activism, "we [were] like a bridge to connect the transgender persons to lawyers when they're being arrested, were being raped," she shares.    

In 2018, Emmalia took a new step in her transition journey by starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT).   

Last March, everything changed for Emmalia when Uganda's parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023. "When the bill was signed, and the situation became really tough, I had to pause hormones for almost five or six months," Emmalia said. She made the difficult decision to stop taking HRT to blend in and not be recognized as trans.  

"I had to persevere and see if the situation would get better, but it didn't because the implementation was given a lot of attention...people wanted to react," she says.  

Emmalia was forced to flee for her life after being attacked in her home.  

Just three days after being attacked, Emmalia packed what she could and went to Kenya. "My first days of reaching [Kenya] were to make ways to survive and make connections.” 

Emmalia brought enough money to get a small room in Nairobi for one month, during which she sought out a community of friends. During her search, she met Nature Network, an LGBTIQ refugee-led community based organization she was familiar with back in Uganda. Emmalia smiles and says, "I feel like family...I feel like I did back in Uganda.”

ORAM was one of the organizations that helped Emmalia find a community of LGBTIQ refugees in Nairobi. "[ORAM] referred me to attend a dialogue full of community leaders representing refugee organizations, where we talked about different was so vibrant," she recalls.   

While Emmalia has found community connections and a place to live, housing and the ability to move around safely in Nairobi remain significant challenges. "Immediate resettlement is extremely important. Even in Kenya, it's not safe for trans women to live."

Emmalia has been unable to access HRT in Nairobi. "When you stop taking hormones, the reverse is terrible, my reverse is so terrible," she shares. "The only organization that provides HRT only provides to the national [Kenyan] transgender persons, not refugees.” 

While Emmalia continues her fight to access HRT, she desires to see a stronger, vibrant, and inclusive gender movement where people are empowered. "When it comes to policymakers and law enforcers, I want to see policies and laws changed to recognize third gender [identities]. Transgender people exist everywhere," she shares.  

In addition to hopes for the trans community, Emmalia has aspirations for herself, too. "My greatest future plan is to have [gender affirming] surgery...that would be my greatest wish forever." 


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