The death and humiliation of Aunty Victoria, Tanzania
Auntie Victoria was reportedly the first openly identified trans woman in Tanzania. She received gender-affirming surgery in Europe many years ago (surgery dates undocumented). When she returned to Tanzania, her home country, she owned a tavern, and generated her own income. She was constantly ridiculed about being trans and became depressed as a result. She attempted suicide on 17 May 2019*, and died later in Muhimbili National Hospital due to the attempt.
The ridicule she experienced did not stop after her death, as the information about her gender identity and suicide came to light when mobile phone pictures of her unconscious, naked body went viral.** Due to the sensation and scandal caused by the viral images, no one from her family wanted to identify her body at the hospital’s morgue. Another reason the family did not come to identify her was that the hospital allowed public viewings of her body. The hospital claimed this further humiliation of Auntie Victoria was because they needed to identify her. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), today known as OutRight International and Gender DynamiX (GDX) supported activists in Tanzania who tried to intervene and advocate and eventually succeeded in convincing the hospital to stop the public viewing.
The last and final dishonour to Auntie Victoria was that, due to the customs of her religion, her family insisted on burying her in her ‘original form’ and removed her breasts and surgically-affirmed genitalia.
The IGLHRC and GDX again expressed their support of the local LGBTIQ+ activists in taking the case further, whether the local activists felt that raising awareness or taking the case to court would be a better strategy. The local activists decided not to take the matter further at the time as the visible and out LGBTIQ+ community was young and had just started coming out publicly. The activists were of the opinion at that time that the amount of media visibility and attention on the LGBTIQ+ community would put the community at risk. There had been no previous outreach to the activists by media or political figures, no LGBTIQ+ sensitisation or awareness, and without a well-planned strategy, they felt that the backlash might risk the lives of all LGBTIQ+ Tanzanians.
As a result of this concern, the only intervention that seemed possible at the time was for the IGLHRC to make an appeal to the United Republic of Tanzania to include this incident in the government’s fourth periodic report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in July 2009 in Geneva, Switzerland. The Tanzanian government complied with this appeal and included the case of Auntie Victoria in their report to the UNHRC. The IGLHRC publicly congratulated the government of Tanzania on its report.
* Ironically, the 17th of May is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). Auntie Victoria’s suicide on this day is a tragic indicator of the necessity for days like IDAHOT.
** To date, it is unconfirmed who was responsible for taking these photos.
The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT)
The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT) is celebrated every year on 17 May. It is a global campaign aimed at raising awareness about the ongoing discrimination, violence, and marginalisation faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex people, and all of those with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics. The campaign seeks to celebrate diversity and advocate for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people.
The theme for 2023, “Together always: united in diversity,” was decided through a large consultation with LGBTQIA+ organisations from around the world.
Chilean artist Sofía Miranda Van den Bosch created six illustrations that incorporated feedback from organisations and activists from across the world who have joined the IDAHOBIT working group.