Global Roundup: Black Genderqueer Lawmaker Elected, China Transphobic Online Hate, Empowering Displaced Iraqi Girls Through Sport, Vertical Farming in Uganda, South Africa Visual Activist
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
Keturah Herron (Facebook/KeturahHerronForKYHouse) via Pink News
Black, queer and genderqueer social justice advocate Keturah Herron was elected to the District 42 seat in a landslide vote in a special election last week in Kentucky. She beat her Republican opponent, Judy Martin Stallard, by 1,959 votes to 119.
Being a Black queer masculine-presenting woman, this is history. This matters. This matters for all of those folks who across, not just here in Louisville but across the commonwealth, to know that you are able to do that and you have someone that is going to be able to represent you, not just speak on issues, but someone who knows and understands and who’s walked that and so I just look forward to inspiring other folks and open up the doors for other people to be in this space. - Keturah Herron
Herron is a Black activist and previously worked as a policy strategist for the ACLU branch in Kentucky. She played a pivotal role in the successful campaign to ban no-knock search warrants in Louisville after Breonna Taylor’s murder. She is the third Black woman to serve in Kentucky’s general assembly.
Herron was endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect out candidates around the nation. Her win is especially significant given the dozens of US states, including Kentcuky, that have seen a swathe of anti-trans bills introduced that would roll back the rights of trans and non-binary youth.
Keturah Herron is a seasoned community organizer and policy expert. She has the experience – and political stamina – to advocate for all Kentuckians and stand up against the deluge of anti-LGBTQ legislation perpetrated by anti-equality lawmakers. Her election is a strong rebuke to this hate. - Annise Parker, Victory Fund president
Influencer Benny Dong before the anti-sissy campaign, in March 2018. From @千户长生 on Bilibili via Sixth Tone
Trans people in China are facing rising transphobic hate online as the country intensifies a crackdown on “sissy” social media influencers to tackle the supposed “masculinity crisis.” The campaign geared up in 2021 with a string of high-profile users having their accounts suspended or shut down.
Lorde Cai, 28, started sharing her life as a trans woman on Chinese social media in early 2020. She would create makeup tutorials as Cosmopolitan Lady Cai. When she told her thousands of fans she normally used the women’s bathroom when she was presenting as a woman, she was met with swift, intense backlash. The hostile comments were so violent that Cai struggled with her mental health for months afterward.
Though the campaign does not explicitly target LGBT people, the community says it has led to a rise in transphobic comments on social media. It puts the mental health and livelihoods of many trans people under threat.
I don’t think they should use words that have anything to do with being effeminate or femininity. It’s making online bullying acceptable in real life because now people will have more reasons to bully you and attack you online. - Lord Cai
Some Chinese influencer agencies have begun actively seeking to recruit trans individuals, believing they can provide something different and edgy in a competitive marketplace. The voyeuristic curiosity many viewers display makes some in the trans community uneasy. But some argue boosting the community’s visibility will help with acceptance and create paid work for trans people who face discrimination in the workplace. Others, such as Yet Xi who is nonbinary, worry that trans influencers are putting themselves at risk. By allowing agencies to pressure them into discussing their private lives online, they may leave themselves open to discrimination in the future. The anti-sissy campaign has only heightened these concerns.
Cai, however, says she refuses to live in fear. The firestorm of abuse she received in 2020 left her afraid of using public restrooms. But now, she has resolved to be completely herself, at least around the people she cares about.
‘When I run, far from prisons and war, I feel as if there are no limits and nothing to stop me’: members of Free to Run training together. Photograph: Giulia Frigieri/The Observer via The Guardian
Teenage girls living with their families in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) are gaining confidence through running, hiking and kickboxing. Free to Run is an NGO that supports and empowers women and girls in regions of conflict through sport, offering them life-skills training, and creating safe spaces for them to develop confidence and friends, and to reclaim public space in a country where women’s rights are lacking.
The girls at Free to Run have lived through both the Iraq War (2003-2011), and the war with ISIS (2014-2017). They’ve not only suffered the trauma of having to flee their homes, many have lost loved ones and missed out on education. Now, they are stuck in a cycle of poverty. They live in one of Erbil, Kudistan’s, two main camps for IDPs, Baharka and Harsham. The programme has enrolled 30 girls from Baharka and Harsham this year alone.
The programme is powerful, as many of the girls were only allowed to play sports in their hometowns until they reached puberty. They often also struggle with autonomy over their own bodies, having to wear the hijab and being forced to get married as children.
Faiza, who is 15, is one of the more confident girls participating in the Free to Run programme. Despite her gentle demeanor, her favorite sport is kickboxing.
Kickboxing isn’t just a form of exercise for me. It is a way to live my dreams…Even when someone said, ‘hi,’ I didn’t like to say ‘hi’ back. But now I feel stronger, like I can protect myself. - Faiza
Shaimaa, now 24, was one of the first girls to enroll with Free to Run, in 2018. She had divorced her abusive husband, whom she married when she was 17, leading her family to shun her. Eventually, she has found sanctuary in sports, particularly running and has won numerous medals. She began encouraging other displaced women and girls to sign up to Free to Run, spreading the word around Baharka Camp. In 2020, she moved out of the camp and into an apartment nearby.
I feel free when I run, far from prisons and war. I feel like there are no limits and nothing to stop me. - Shaimaa
Tagreed, 16, who joined Free to Run a year ago, enjoys the group’s “team spirit” and loves running – they train four times a week in a local park in Erbil and ran a 10k race in November. She hopes to run the Erbil Marathon in May 2022. Her father says he would not let her carry on running when she stops the Free Run program because of the society inside the camp. Tagreed, however, is determined to keep running, no matter what.
Even if the community don’t like me running in the park, I don’t care; I feel strong and I will continue with my running. - Tagreed
Lilian Nakigozi Via Ventures Africa
Lilian Nakigozi is the founder of Women Smiles Uganda (WSU), a social enterprise improving the lives of women and young girls in under-served communities of Africa, especially those living in urban slums who are landless and have limited spaces through smart agriculture using vertical farms. Since its inception, WSU has trained 6,500 women and young people in sustainable urban farming, setting up vertical farm units for them.
Nakigozi lived in slums growing up and was raised in hardship with her baby sister by a single parent. Her mother had no money to put food on the table and no land to grow crops on. And when she was eight years old, she lost her baby sister to hunger.
As I grew older, I promised myself that I needed to do something to change the experience of women and young girls in urban slums and underserved communities. That is why I ventured into vertical farming and established Women Smiles Uganda in 2018. - Lilian Nakigozi
Vertical farming is a form of controlled-environment agriculture aimed at optimizing plant growth using soilless farming techniques such as hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics. Although it is not new to the continent, it is yet to gain wide adoption.
Opportunities abound in the use of urban farming. Although we have many lands in Africa, they are infertile, and farmers are experiencing climate change. The only way is to go into vertical farming. There are also very few women who own land and have land titles to their names. That poses a big challenge because we constitute more than 70 per cent of the agriculture workforce. With vertical farming, they are not limited by space and they can grow a variety of crops using the small space they have. - Lilian Nakigozi
Finance is still a challenge for Nakigozi, as being a woman makes it more difficult for her to secure funding. According to the latest report by Disrupt Africa on startups on the continent, Agri-tech underperforms for diversity, with only 9.1 per cent of funded ventures having a woman co-founder.
Nakigozi believes that because food scarcity is a problem in many African countries, WSU has an outstanding opportunity to scale. They are considering expanding into Eastern Africa and collaborating with agricultural and composite manure-related companies. Overall, Nakigozi hopes to fulfill her dream of making a difference in people’s lives.
We believe that by collaborating and involving women, communities can help each other transcend poverty and financial reliance. Hopefully, we will be able to accomplish this soon. - Lilian Nakigozi
Phila I, Parktown, 2016. Zanele Muholi / Yancey Richardson Gallery, NewYork, and Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town/Johannesburg via GBH News
For nearly 20 years, Sir Zanele Muholi has photographed LGBTQ+ people in South Africa – now, they want their photography to help change the culture of oppression that still exists there. Muholi describes themself not as a visual artist but as a visual activist. Their work is now on view at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the exhibition, Being Muholi: Portraits as Resistance.
All I ever wanted to do was to make sure that I become that voice for change in South Africa, in which every single being who is Black, who is queer, who is trans, is documented. - Sir Zanele Muholi
In the aftermath of Apartheid, South Africa was the first nation in the world to constitutionally guarantee the right to equality and nondiscrimination to all people, with a specific prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Nonetheless, the LGBTQ+ community there remains subject to high rates of violence and murder — especially among young and Black people.
It’s like you cannot ignore [my photography]. It’s Black, it’s beautiful. It’s on your walls and it forces you to dialogue with your peers and start to wonder how you can, how you as a white person, deal with a Black image still, with Black people in your spaces, deal with Black colleagues in your workplace and deal with Black queers at Pride. - Sir Zanele Muholi
After years of photographing others, Muholi decided it was time to turn the camera on themself. They say it was a way to pay homage to their mom. The show's co-curator, theo tyson, says that Muholi's work becomes more dimensional when you look at their stylized self-portraits.
They’re not playing dress-up, if you will. There are clothes pins used to talk about domestic labor and share stories of their mother. There are the plastic gloves that we see as a sign of the times and what that represents from sexual violence, to access to healthcare to now COVID and what we need to do to protect ourselves. - theo tyson
Muholi says their paintings were composed mainly last year, during a period of pain — so these vulnerable works were a way of healing, even if they’re sold at the end of the day. They also say it is an interesting experience to step back and see the completed paintings in all their color.
You fall in love knowing that you might lose that lover. Once it’s out of your sight and it belongs to the other, it’s like losing love — and that love belongs to someone. - Sir Zanele Muholi
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is a student at the University of Ottawa. She has experience working with survivors of sexual violence in her community, as well as conducting research on gender-based violence. A lot of her time is spent learning about and critically engaging with intersectional feminism, transformative justice and disability justice.
Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She refuses to let anyone thwart her imagination when it comes to envisioning a radically different future full of care webs, nurturance and collective liberation.