/ 9 October 2021

Meet Uganda’s first transgender citizen

Cleopatrakambugu N
Victory: Cleopatra Kambugu, who has fought for trans people’s rights, had hers recognised when she got her ID saying she was female

When Cleopatra Kambugu received the notification that her new identity document was ready, she wasn’t sure exactly what it would say. She went to collect it, and there it was: the letter “F”.

“It’s a huge milestone,” she said. “It’s not my win, it’s the community’s win.”

Kambugu has been fighting for trans rights for years. Her own transition and the discrimination she faced because of it were the subject of the award-winning documentary, The Pearl of Africa.

Part of her transition involved getting authorities to recognise her identity in her official documents, without which it is difficult for trans people to get public services. Kambugu demanded to speak to the top officials in the citizenship and passport office and, to her surprise, she found them more understanding than she had expected. 

“The government knows about us,” she said. “All that hard work of changing people’s minds, it feels like people are starting to understand.”

Although she is celebrating now, she says there are more battles to be fought. “When you present yourself as a trans person in public, you get policed. Are you women enough? It helps that I do pass, and I’ve had surgery. What if you don’t pass?” 

But, she said, there are still only two gender categories in Uganda — male and female. 

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here