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Single Issue Allies

By Agatha Nyambi

Recently, Taryn and I attended a conference hosted by Gender Dynamix, Iranti-org and the Gender Health and Justice Research Unit on Gender Affirming Healthcare. Taryn and I attended in order to help take notes but the target audience of the conference was medical and mental health practitioners. The goal of the conference was to bring healthcare providers from different countries in Southern Africa together in a space where they could learn about the range of barriers that transgender persons experience when accessing health and healthcare services and how we can make strides in addressing those barriers. The reality is that, transgender and gender diverse populations encounter barriers when seeking care and this ranges from accessing routine or preventative healthcare services to gender affirming healthcare. It was an eye-opening experience for me, to say the least and something that was stated during the conference which was captured in the Tweet below was the fact that, “we can’t have single issue allies."

A word that is used to capture this idea is intersectionality. Before I left Canada, my friends gave me Angela Y. Davis’s book called “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” as a parting gift. In the book, Davis describes intersectionality as “efforts to think, analyze, organize as we recognise the interconnections of race, class, gender [and] sexuality” (1). From the outset one might think that intersectionality is something that is intrinsic to all social equality and justice movements. However this is not the case, in reality the most privileged within the marginalized populations are often those that benefit the most from activism. As individuals, we are not just one thing. We are a combination of intersecting identities that influence how we experience the world. We all have some sort of privilege in this world whether it comes from our, racial identity, sexual identity, gender identity, class and the list could go on and on. The notion of identifying and accepting one’s privilege is something that could probably take the space of multiple blog posts but the comic in the following link is one of my favourite illustrations of privilege.

This is all to say, that I have been spurred to think about whether my own position as an “ally” comes with any qualifiers or conditions. Additionally, I think it is important to talk about these issues with the people around you so that those that are marginalized do not have to be the ones who end up doing all the emotional labour. Furthermore, I’m now challenging myself to not only “talk the talk” so to speak but to also get more involved in activism in general when I find myself back in Canada. I am hesitant to end this on an extremely clichéd note but I think this famous Mahatma Gandhi quote sums my sentiments up succinctly: Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

1. Davis, Angela Y and Frank Barat. Freedom Is A Constant Struggle. 1st ed. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016. Print.

Agatha Nyambi is working as an Intern in Sexual Minority Health with the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

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