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Lesotho: Making trans rights matter

Tampose Mothopeng is a human rights defender from Lesotho. He is also young, idealistic, and transsexual. Mr. Mothopeng says, “There’s a lot of stigma in the general population.” He says the transgender community in Lesotho is tackling violence and bullying in schools, a lack of access to health services, and a high rate of unemployment.

Trans people define themselves as those who have a different self-identity than their physical gender. They face employment barriers because of their gender identity and expression. They often drop out of school because of family- or school-based violence.

According to Mr. Mothopeng, without education or employment, many are forced into sex work just to get by.

But despite these and other challenges, there is a vibrant trans movement in Lesotho working at both the grassroots and national levels. Mr. Mothopeng is the director of the Matrix Support Group, an organization which raises awareness and combats discrimination.

Matrix engages with traditional leaders, teachers, and government officials. Its members speak on radio and television talk shows. The group runs campaigns on bodily autonomy, and hosts community dialogues.

When the Government of Lesotho develops national strategic plans, Matrix pushes the government to include the perspectives of minority groups: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual/Transgender and Intersexual people, or LGBTI; men who have sex with men, and other key populations.

Mr. Mothopeng says: “We’re sensitizing and educating teachers about gender identity and human rights, and working with the Ministry of Education to develop a new module for high school students.”

Mr. Mothopeng points out that medical care can be particularly problematic for the trans community. He explains, “We cannot access health services. They don’t seem prepared to help us.” In response, Matrix released its own study on trans health this year. Mr. Mothopeng says the study was important because most research focuses on men who have sex with men only.

In May 2014, Matrix organized a march through Lesotho’s capital of Maseru to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The group uses days like this and the International Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20 to publicize issues that trans people face, and hold community-building activities such as movie screenings and group discussions.

He credits his recent Mandela Washington Fellowship experience in the U.S. with sharpening his leadership and problem-solving skills. Mr. Mothopeng says, “I now know when to say ‘no’ and when to say ‘yes.’ I don’t just rush into things. I look into things and prioritize before getting started.”

Mr. Mothopeng says he is proud of the partnerships Matrix has made. He also stresses the diversity within the organization’s management and leadership programs.

He says: “In Africa in general, most organizations have been struggling to sustain partnerships with other human rights groups or with the government itself. We don’t lose our partners. We’re a youth-led organization run by LGBTI activists.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, A movement that matters: Trans rights in Lesotho, go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randal-mason/a-movement-that-matters-t_b_6177810.html

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