37 year old Sempijja better known as Mrs. Pontoshi within the grassroot LGBT community is an out and proud trans-woman and serves as a local council three chairperson of Wanale Divison in Mbale municipality.
Kuchu Times sat down with the courageous activist and talked to her about balancing her political career as well as being an advocate for trans women rights.
KT: As an activist, please share what you would say is the biggest challenge faced by trans persons who are based up country?
I identify as a trans woman and I say this from experience- we have been left out in many programs. We are threatened by the local police, local leaders, and are also discriminated against especially within religious circles.
KT: Please elaborate on the research findings you presented in the Sexual Reproductive Health Rights dialogue.
I was facilitated by Tranz Network Uganda to conduct this research and I was here to present my findings as well as forward the recommendations to counter the challenges faced by transgender people in Eastern Uganda.
We don’t have lubricants in Eastern Uganda, and one of our biggest challenges is being discriminated against by health service providers. There is also lack of knowledge about condom use and promotion. At the end of the study, we discovered that there were many transgender women living with HIV/AIDS in Eastern Uganda but because of the challenges I presented today, many are not accessing the required medication.
KT: How do you balance your political career and trans rights advocacy?
When I began my political career, most of my political opponents tried to use my association with the LGBTI community as a tool to fight me but my manifesto was very clear- I was out to serve my people and my gender had nothing to do with it.
KT: How are you planning to use your political office to influence the policies that sideline LGBT persons?
Because I’m open even to my fellow leaders, this is a great platform for my advocacy- I have preached the gospel of acceptance and they're starting to understand that LGBT persons deserve to be respected.
KT: What advantage do you think urban trans people have over rural area based transgender persons?
There are many organisations in urban spaces and most of the sensitization and awareness campaigns about LGBTI issues have happened in urban areas. People from across the globe rarely visit rural areas - something that has affected the capacity growth of people at the grassroot.
KT: What achievements would you say have been registered by the transgender movement in Uganda ?
We are happy that aw there are engagement meetings with the district health officers and other health service providers. While cases of discrimination continue to be registered, we have also seen a decrease in public attacks towards trans people.
KT: What is your final message to political leaders in regards to transgender Ugandans?
I appeal to all political leaders, both local and national, to make an effort to understand LGBTI people. They should have dialogues to enlighten themselves and receive the right information about gender and sexual minorities.
And to other transgender Ugandans, if we keep united, we shall achieve a lot more, let us continue to collaborate, sit on the same table, share our problems and get find collective solutions together.