amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

GRASSROOTS: The GMT Initiative Blog

Grassroots reports on the work of amfAR-supported research teams and advocates responding to the devastating impact of HIV among gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender individuals (collectively, GMT).

Cape Town, South Africa: Transgender Transformations

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Posted by Kent Klindera, May 9, 2011


I’ve been visiting with Gender Dynamix, a new MSM Initiative grantee based in a low-income neighborhood outside Cape Town. Gender Dynamix is Africa’s first formal transgender-focused nonprofit organization, and amfAR is supporting a research study they are conducting on the health and human rights needs of transgender individuals. Currently, very little data exist documenting specific HIV-related risk factors facing transgender people. The great news is that in addition to amfAR’s funding, a South African donor has made a significant contribution to Gender Dynamix’s outreach work, allowing them to expand the study’s reach into at least three more provinces.

Today I heard of a project Gender Dynamix calls “T-junction” in which transgender people gather to socialize once a month in a private room above a restaurant. They often attend a formal support group sponsored by another nonprofit and then come to T-junction to unwind. Many participants present as their biological gender during their working hours but bring a change of clothing (to dress as their preferred gender) for the social gathering. These gatherings are unheard of in Africa, where transgender identities are just starting to be recognized. Anthropologists and historians have documented transgender people and same-sex behavior in past African cultures (there are cave drawings depicting both), but colonial influences have criminalized and shamed these identities. 

Gender Dynamix is being supported by another U.S.-based donor to conduct exchanges and build the capacity of nascent transgender organization in other African countries, including Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Zambia, and even Uganda. All of these groups are amazing and I’m proud to be a part of history— assisting courageous organizations find freedom.

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