I am not ashamed to be a woman! Those were Alexander Ngungu Nthungi’s words after Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi of the Kenyan High Court declared that police violated his rights and dignity by stripping him naked to ascertain his sexual identity.
“The judgment has given me renewed hope; I will no longer have the fear of being a woman. Now I am free and I feel those like me having transgender problems should come out and fight for their rights,” said Nthungi during an interview with Kenya’s Nation newspaper on Wednesday.
By his side was Andrew Mbugua, who has been engaged in a running legal battle to be officially recognised as a woman and be known as Audrey Mbugua.
The two embraced and celebrated in what they termed a victory and a light at the end of the tunnel for people with gender identity disorder.
“It is a warning to people that the dignity of transgender individuals has to be respected and that whatever one decides to wear cannot be a justification for humiliating the person,” Audrey said.
A time has come, Audrey said, for people with gender identity disorder to be honest with themselves, fight for their rights and stop thinking of discrimination or contemplating suicide.
Justice Mumbi Ngugi declared that officers at the Thika Police Station near Nairobi violated Nthungi’s rights and dignity and awarded him Sh200,000 compensation.
She said the police did not have the powers to strip him to ascertain his gender and that the best they could do was to refer him to a medical doctor for assessment. She ruled that by subjecting him to a search, the police had an intention of humiliating him because he was dressed like a woman and it was unlawful to strip him.
She ruled that whatever Nthungi’s choice was in relation to his mode of dressing and regardless of the fact that he perceived himself as a woman, he still retained his inherent worth and dignity to which all humans are entitled.
In January 2011, Nthungi was at work in his grocery shop in Thika town, dressed like a woman when he was arrested and taken to the police station for questioning over claims of assaulting another woman.
While at the station and in the full glare of the media, an officer stripped him naked claiming they wished to identify his gender.
Stigma and ridicule
Despite what he went through, Nthungi on Wednesday said he would no longer be stressed by the events of that ill-fated day although he suffered stigma and ridicule from neighbours.
“I always feel more of a woman than a man. At times it used to affect me and I had to skip my business due to the discrimination,” Nthungi said. “I am happy my family understands me and they have accepted me as I am.”
Audrey has started a lobby group to advocate for the rights of transgender persons, which is at an advanced stage of registration with the NGO board.
Another transgender victim, Audrey decided to form the Transgender Education and Advocacy lobby group after hearing first-hand accounts of people going through the trauma of trying to change their sexual identity.
“We currently have over 40 members across the country,” Audrey said. “Our mission is to reduce the stigma and tell the transgender victims that we are stronger together”.
On the outcome of Nthungi’s case, Audrey said: “Although we are happy about the judgment, the judge should have compelled the police to offer a public apology. Sometimes it’s not about being compensated with money but being recognised as human.”
Audrey disagreed with some religious leaders’ opinion that they were interfering with God’s intention of creating them male, saying, there was nothing wrong with changing their names or dressing in any mode of their choice.
Their lawyer, Mr Daniel Wokabi, said transgender persons should be classified as “a special need group” so that their rights to dignity are respected.
“Issues of transgender ought to be dealt with a lot of caution and restraint. They are human and people should appreciate the pain they undergo in trying to identify with another gender,” Mr Wokabi said.
The Constitution, he said, recognises the rights and dignity of such people.
He urged individuals having the same problem to come out in the open to have the issues resolved in line with the Constitution without fear of public ridicule.
by Paul Ogemba