Recently I wrote about Audrey Mbugua of Kenya in my Transgender Heroes series.
Audrey has been busy. Not content to sit on her laurels, Audrey has formed a lobby group, called Transgender Education and Advocacy, to advocate for the rights of transgender Kenyans. It is said to be “at an advanced stage of registration” with the NGO board.
We currently have over 40 members across the country. Our mission is to reduce the stigma and tell the transgender victims that we are stronger together.
And low and behold, her group has already paid dividends. Alexander Ngungu Nthungi (legal name) won a case in Kenyan High Court against police, who were declared to have violated her rights and dignity by stripping her naked in public to determine her gender.
All newspaper accounts of the case use male pronouns. I shall use female pronouns except in quotations.
The judgment has given me renewed hope; I will no longer have the fear of being a woman. Now I am free and I feel those like me having transgender problems should come out and fight for their rights.
Mbugua stood at her side throughout the process.
It is a warning to people that the dignity of transgender individuals has to be respected and that whatever one decides to wear cannot be a justification for humiliating the person.
Justice Mumbi Ngugi declared that officers at Thika Police Station near Nairobi violated Nthungi’s rights and dignity and awarded Nthungi Sh200,000 compensation ($2331 US).
Judge Ngugi said that police did not have powers to strip Nthungi naked in full glare of the media, which the police said needed to be done to identify her gender. The judge ruled that the police did so with the intention of humiliating her because she was dressed as a woman and should have instead called in a medical doctor if determination of gender was necessary.
Nthungi had been arrested in January 2011 while at work in her grocery shop in Thika, dressed as a woman. Police had received a claim that she assaulted another woman.
While at the station and in the full glare of the media, an officer stripped him naked claiming they wished to identify his gender.
The incident was filmed and aired on television. Female police officers pulled Nthungi’s hair and beat her up while being filmed.
As a result of the stress of the situation, Nthungi was treated at Thika District Hospital, where a doctor diagnosed her with Gender Identity DIsorder.
The Attorney General claimed that because of that diagnosis, Nthungi should not have been allowed to file the case, but rather should have had a guardian appointed “to represent his interests.” Justice Ngugi said there was nothing before her to show that persons with GID suffer mentally.
Justice Ngugi also ruled that whatever Nthungi’s choice in relation to mode of dressing and regardless of the fact that she perceived herself to be a woman, she still retained her inherent worth and dignity to which all humans are entitled.
Nthungi says she will no longer be stressed by the events which transpired on that ill-fated day, even though she suffered stigma and ridicule from her neighbors.
I always feel more of a woman than a man. At times it used to affect me and I had to skip my business due to the discrimination. I am happy my family understands me and they have accepted me as I am.
Although we are happy about the judgment, the judge should have compelled the police to offer a public apology. Sometimes it’s not about being compensated with money but being recognised as human.
In the face of religious leaders who have claimed that transgender people are interfering with God’s intention of creating them male, Mbugua responded that there was nothing wrong with changing their names or dressing in any mode of their choice.
The rights groups lawyer, Daniel Wokabi, called for transgender persons to be classified “a special needs group” so that their rights to dignity are respected.
Issues of transgender ought to be dealt with a lot of caution and restraint. They are human and people should appreciate the pain they undergo in trying to identify with another gender.
Wokabi reminded everyone that the Kenyan Constitution recognizes the rights and dignity of all such groups of people.
Wokabi, Mbugua, and Nthungi urged all individuals with the same problem to come out into the open and have their issues resolved in line with the Constitution without fear of public ridicule.
Nthungi and her lawyer have appealed to have the judgment amount increased.