I Am Trans: The Angolan movement that works for freedom
On the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Imanni da Silva shares her story of perseverance for transgender rights and inclusion.
Imanni da Silva considers herself a free being, and throughout her life she has challenged harmful gender norms imposed by society, while inspiring others to do the same.
“We are on a mission of inclusion,” she says. “Trans people still suffer greatly from domestic violence, arbitrary arrests and discrimination in many social and public spaces.”
As the leader of the Movimento Eu Sou Trans (I am Trans Movement) in Angola, and a trans woman herself, she says that the path to becoming an activist was paved naturally, “because of the need to get results and eradicate obstacles that keep a person from having a dignified and free life.” All, of course, in the name of freedom: “Freedom above everything else. Freedom to be, to do and to express myself.”
The I am Trans Movement was founded on 31 March 2019, the International Day of Transgender Visibility, and fights for the rights, and amplifies the voice and visibility, of trans people in Angola.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has supported groups and individuals in Angola, like Imanni, to sensitize decision makers to include and respond to sexual orientation and gender diversity in national and regional debates, policies and strategies. For instance, the UNDP project Linking Policy to Programming (2016–2021) contributed to better laws and policies, more responsive public sector services, and social norms, including on HIV, for young key populations and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI+) people in Angola.
“UNDP’s role has been critical for us to meet and discuss with State institutions and other partners in the country and the region,” she says, recalling her participation in the Regional Conference on the Rights of LGBTQI+ People in the Southern African Development Community region in 2020, organized by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, with UNDP’s support.
Recently, Imanni worked as a consultant for the Linking Policy to Programming project and supported the development of an advocacy strategy for Associação Íris, a local LGBTI+ civil society organization. This experience also helped her strengthen the I am Trans Movement.
Imanni is a strong advocate for greater engagement with schools and universities on sexual and gender diversity. “This will reduce discrimination against transgender and LGBTI+ people in these spaces and help create a new generation of health and legal professionals more concerned with inclusion and respect for all,” she says.
In the past, Imanni worked as a trainer, conducting sessions on LGBTI+ stigma and discrimination in Luanda, reaching more than 250 health care professionals and hundreds of police officers. She still takes every opportunity available to spread awareness about these important issues, hoping to change minds for the better.
“In activism, one works with a dream. The goal is to see changes in consciousness and ideology, on a social level, and that will result in changing behaviors,” says Imanni.
Since its inception, the I am Trans Movement has run several campaigns, always with the goal of creating opportunities for social inclusion of LGBTI+ people and enabling interaction with wider audiences through culture and art.
Currently, the I am Trans Movement is collaborating with UNDP through the #WeBelongAfrica programme, which aims to help sub-Saharan African nations become increasingly accountable to and inclusive of LGBTI+ people and young key populations, and to promote the respect for their needs and rights. The partnership with UNDP has created bridges, facilitated access to public institutions and authorities, and facilitated cooperation with different ongoing initiatives.
“UNDP’s support has been instrumental in opening the right doors,” Imanni says.
Just like in many other parts of the world, transgender people in Angola face discrimination, including bullying and intimidation in educational institutions and in work environments. The current Penal Code, in force since 2021, introduces non-discrimination provisions based on sexual orientation, including in the workplace, which has been hailed as a positive step toward inclusion.
“I am an optimist. I believe it is only a matter of time before we achieve more inclusion and respect for the rights and needs of trans people,” she concludes with a hopeful smile. “Angola has already come a long way. The country already formally recognizes human rights organizations led by openly LGBTI+ people, and has already introduced non-discrimination provisions based on sexual orientation, including in the workplace. Although, this does not mention gender identity. It’s gradual, but it’s happening,” she says.
“This progress is also due to the constant work that civil society has been doing,” Imanni adds. “We must continue to advocate, explain, and fight for our rights to be fulfilled and make these achievements work for everyone.”