Wahira LaBelle is a revolutionary East African sister currently living in the United States. She left home due to transphobia and she was kind enough to answer our questions in regards to her activism, her journey and what advice she would give young trans people from the African continent.
Could you tell us a little about your background?
I am a trans fem queer of Somali descent. I was born in Somalia. I now reside in California. I am the Bay area organizer for the Black LGBTQ+ Migrant Projects (BLMP) and also a founder of Black Trans Migrants United BTMU.
When did you start to come to terms with your gender identity?
At a very young age! But I waited until I was in a safe space to be fully myself. Which means I had to flee my home country.
What was your self discovery journey like?
Growing up in a radical Muslim community in a small Somali village, I knew I was different from a very young age. After years of mixed feelings of shame and a desire for self-discovery, I decided to migrate and ended up in refugee camps in Kenya. I finally figured that I was not alone. Learning that there are other trans people around the world, I was able to come to terms with the fact that my difference was something tangible, something that has also been experienced by other people and something that I could understand and celebrate. And that’s when I decided to fully accept myself regardless of all the risks that come with being different.
How was it shaped by your being from East Africa and the Global South?
Real resilience. It shaped me into the strong person I am today. If I survived transphobia in East Africa, I can really survive anything. Bring it on!
What are the biggest challenges and misunderstandings facing trans people in East Africa and Africa?
Transphobia! Our existence is fully criminalized in East Africa. There is a very high number of transphobic attacks and murders in East Africa. And there is very little to no information that comes out.
There is a lot of violence directed against Black and Latinx transgender women in the US. How does this affect you?
It affects me big time. Being black in itself is already a challenge in this country. Now add being a woman, trans and immigrant on top of it. I embody multiple internationally that easily puts me at target.
What’s the atmosphere like for trans people in East Africa?
Risky, filled with fear, unknown, displacement and dangerous.
Do you think the climate is changing for trans people globally, and more specifically in East Africa?
Globally? Yes. But in East Africa, no. We have a very long way to go when it comes to accepting our differences.
Don’t give up. Know that you ARE VALID. You matter. One day you will look back and you will be proud of yourself.Wahira LaBelle
What’s the biggest challenge toward change? How do we go about organizing to bring about change?
The biggest challenge is awareness. The world needs to know that we exist and that we demand our right to exist without fear. We really just have to be more vocal about our existence. And continue fighting for our basic human right.
What experiences can we take from those of you organizing in countries such as the US? As a member of BLMP, what are some of the lessons that you would want to share with those of us who work and live on the African continent?
Creating our own tribe in a foreign country where we didn’t fully feel like we “belong” helped me to really show up for my community in a way that I no longer leave any of my intersectionality at the door. I finally found myself by finding BLMP (I’m tearing up while typing this). I never felt I belonged until I found BLMP
What gives you joy?
When i find myself snatching microphones and loudly speaking up for my voiceless black LGBTQI migrants in spaces where we’re not included in conversations. Sitting next to my widely open window in the morning sunrise and having a cup of turmeric milk tea gives me joy … little things like that.
What advice would you give to young trans women in East Africa and beyond?
It will get better. Don’t give up. Know that you ARE VALID. You matter. One day you will look back and you will be proud of yourself.