Born Lubega Micheal, Cindy is one of the activists at the fore front of the struggle for trans rights in Uganda.
After being rejected and thrown out by his family, she was left with no choice but to join the sex work profession. She has slowly made a life for herself, established herself as a fashionista in the community and taken the struggle for trans rights to rural Uganda.
Ambrose Barigye from Kuchu Times sat down with Cindy as she revealed the obstacles in the sex work profession and why she can never let money lure her into unprotected sex.
KT: Who is Cindy and how would you describe yourself?
CINDY : Briefly ,Cindy is an activist, a sex worker and fashionista.
KT: How did you get into sex work?
CINDY: I got into this profession about three years ago after being rejected by my family. I started working at Speke Road and recently took on the mantle of activism of gay and sex work rights.
KT: How would you compare the state of the sex work profession in Uganda today to about ten years ago?
CINDY: Things haven’t been going on smoothly but we try our best because we must earn a living. Many bills that threaten our profession have been tabled like the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the NGO Bill that left out livelihoods at stake.
However, we also recognize the fact that the sex workers are more enlightened. They know they have rights and have started advocating for them and are also taking better care of themselves in terms of health.
KT: What challenges have you faced in the sex work profession?
CINDY: Our biggest challenge as sex workers is hostile clients. Most of them are very aware they are haggling with a man but they turn on you as soon as you reach the designated venue of business.
We are often beaten up or not paid yet the authorities will not help us much.
KT: How do you deal with clients that don’t have any regard for protection against HIV?
CINDY: I personally cannot have sex without a condom regardless of how much you are willing to pay me. I value my life way too much and I make it clear before I go off with a client.
KT: Tell us about your experience as a transwoman
CINDY: There is a lot of misinformation about transgender people and so often we are mistaken to be gay. Many people do not realize that the two are different issues and Ugandans in particular are very unreceptive to transgender people mostly because they do not understand the issue.
KT: How did your family react to your transition?
CINDY : My family was very clear as soon as I came out- they wanted nothing to do with me. They said our religious beliefs could not allow them to stay in contact with me. That is how I joined the sex profession; it dawned on me that I somehow had to make ends meet yet I could not get a proper job due to my low level of education.
KT: In your opinion, what will it take to make Ugandans understand and embrace transgender people?
CINDY: I tjhink people should be sensitized about LGBTI issues and sex work in general. Most people in our society do not know what sexual orientation and gender identity are and cannot tell the difference.
They are still very biased to the idea of anything that does not conform to what they consider normal and until they become open minded, we shall continue to experience the problems we are dealing with.
KT: Please share with our readers what your life as a fashionista is like.
CINDY: As a transwoman and sex worker, I am left with no o[option but to be creative when it comes to fashion.
I have to look good to attract clients and I have overtime acquired a style sense that makes me stand out. Besides, I was raised by very fashionable people and have always been drawn to stylish clothes.
KT: Do your fellow sex workers and fashion clients know about your gender identity and profession respectively?
CINDY: Yes they do, most of them actually address me as Cindy but some do have a problem with it. I have learnt to trust my instincts and whether I am comfortable with a client or not will determine if I will work with them.
I have lost so many job opportunities because people are not comfortable with either my gender identity or profession but I don’t let it bother me anymore.
KT: What future plans do you have?
CINDY: I hope to open up my own boutique soon. I plan to call it Cindy Fashions.
KT: We are told you run an organization, please tell us about that?
CINDY: I am the founder of Action for Transgender Rights which advocates for everything transgender and speaks out for the millions of transpeople in Uganda.
There are several organisations that do the same but I came up with this idea to reach transpeople in rural areas after realizing that most of these organisations were centred in the Central region.
KT: How do you deal with the health concerns in the trans community?
CINDY: I am currently working with Most At Risk Populations’Initiative (MARPI) and the MAPS network and most of the people I deal with get references to these health initiatives.
KT: As we wrap up, what is your message to the community on trans issues?
CINDY: People should stop being too judgemental. No one chooses to be gay or transgender, we can’t help our sexuality or gender identity and people should realize it us a struggle for us and there is no need to make the situation worse.