Alexandra Rubera, a trans woman from Burundi, faced arrest and death threats from private citizens and the police in her native country on an ongoing basis. Alexandra moved between Burundi and Rwanda as she had a parent from each country, making access easier to both countries. When life became too difficult for her, Alexandra had no permanent home and became fully nomadic, also moving between Kenya and Tanzania.
Alexandra would self-describe as Travesti and she lived a fully independent life, but her gender identity led to constant harassment, public humiliation, and police arrests. When she was sitting in a coffee shop in an upper-class shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, police clamped down on her and arrested her under the guise of “public nuisance” and “imposter identity” (fraud). She was further humiliated in the police cells when the police removed from her everything they considered to be “female” and therefore fraudulent – her clothing, wig, and make-up – and then allowed a journalist to take photos of her and publish the “scandal” in local newspapers.
Eventually, she was deported back to Burundi from Kenya, but the police confiscated her passport and all her documents and in doing so turned her into an undocumented citizen in her own country. She got into contact with people from Amnesty International and was also in contact with IGLHRC (the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, today known as OutRight International).
Cary Alan Johnson (senior specialist for Africa, IGLHRC), struggled to find any established LGBTIQ+ organisations based in South Africa with experience in asylum matters who would agree to assist in the matter. Cary eventually contacted Liesl Theron from the newly established Gender DynamiX (GDX) to enquire about the possibility of GDX assisting and supporting Alexandra with her application for asylum in South Africa if Alexandra were able to make her own way into the country. With little experience, Liesl replied: “She is a trans person in need, we will help her. I have no idea what I’m actually saying yes to – but we will help her, and we will need your guidance in the matter”. Cary and Liesl remained in contact and introduced Liesl to Judge Edwin Cameron and Advocate William Kerfoot from the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in Cape Town, who would be able to provide GDX with legal assistance. Liesl personally assisted Alexandra in preparing her motivational letters and her legal case and accompanied her on numerous trips to the offices of South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs.
Because Liesl and GDX were inexperienced in asylum matters and because there were no other types of guidance or best practice examples outside of the legal assistance provided, Liesl prepared the information which would serve as motivation about the difficulty of living as a trans person in Kenya, where she had been arrested, as well as in Burundi, her native country which she was seeking asylum from.