Tips to Help You Prepare While Travelling As A Trans Person In Africa

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Despite the worldwide clamour for equal rights and freedom of sexual expression, there are numerous reports of members of the LGBTQ+ community and especially members of the trans community being mistreated and rough-handled in airports all over the world.

The truth remains that despite the covering that international laws provide, there are still about 80 countries – a large portion of which are in Africa- where merely being suspected of being gay or trans is a criminal offence.The penalties range from 2 years imprisonment to whipping and even death. Needless say, as a trans man or woman, you would have to take the utmost care when it comes to domestic or international travel within the African continent.

Also, considering that being openly gay, cross-dressing, transgender or transexual is illegal in most parts of Africa, there are no provisions made to cater for the sensitive attention that a trans person might need at the airport. If you are trans and intend to take a trip to certain parts of Africa, you will need to take some precautions to avoid unnecessary complications at the airport or during your trip.

Planning your Trip

Before booking your flight or making concrete plans, it’s of the highest importance that you ascertain the safety of your proposed destination. Research can’t possibly be overemphasized when it comes to travelling in Africa while trans. It’s important to learn about the laws of the land, find out about local organisations and groups that are trans friendly. At the end of this post, you will find a list of African countries and their stance on LGBTQ+ rights as this is often a mirror of the domestic stance on trans people.

Apart from what is written in the laws, there are also unwritten norms which govern how you will be received in the place you will be visiting. This is equally, if not as important as what is written in the constitution because it determines the reception you will get once you arrive at your destination.

In case it might be a turn off, you should be aware that most, if not all African countries, have yet to consciously provide gender neutral bathrooms. Also, possession of sex toys is mostly frowned upon in African airports and might attract undue attention. It might also be regarded as evidence of sex work, which may result in detainment.

Before you book your ticket, you will definitely look into where to stay. Regardless of what country you choose to visit, it is most advisable to visit bigger cities for several reasons. Compared to rural dwellers, those in the urban areas are more likely to be accepting of people’s differences. Also, your country’s embassy is likely to be located in the capital city of the country you choose to visit. If you choose to visit Nigeria for instance, then you might want to consider a budget hotel in Victoria Island or  the cheap hotels in Ikeja both suburbs are located in the country’s commercial capital. At hotels.ng, you can get pretty good deals on hotels. I’ve heard Federal Palace Hotel in Victoria Island is particularly good.

Travel Documents

Acquiring a VISA from an African country will be the first hurdle where travel documents are concerned. In countries with liberal law where LGBT rights are recognised, it should be easier for you to attain a visa. South Africa visas as well as Rwanda visas should not prove to be too much of a hassle. Otherwise, it would be advisable to speak with a staff of your embassy in the country you intend to visit. There you can get direct information about how best to proceed.

In most countries, the law requires that the gender marker and name on your boarding pass must match the one on the government-issued photo ID and that all passengers over the age of 18 must provide proof of identity both at check-in and at security. In this case Africa is no different and this makes being a trans traveller rather tricky.

As of today, no African country recognises non-binary or third gender classifications. This means it would be best to use the information -name and gender specifically- that appears on your passport or your photo ID when booking your ticket. That is, granted you haven’t updated your travel documents and ID. If your appearance no longer matches your ID, make sure you take a note from a verifiable medical practice explaining the change in your appearance.

Packing and Security Checks

If you wish to travel with needles, syringes, or hormones, you need to take proof that they are prescribed. Keep all your medical supplies in one bag so they can be easily screened. If your hormones need to be refrigerated, ask flight crew to store them for you. In case that isn’t possible, carry a thermos with you. You may also want to  consider checking these with your luggage unless you’ll need them in the air.

Most airport security checks do not require that you take of any non-metal clothing items you are wearing. This also applies to prosthetics. However, due to the African norms, to avoid undue attention it may be best to keep your prosthetics in your carry-on bag and request for private screening.

If you are a transman who packs, ensure your packing piece doesn’t have any metal parts. Also, be aware that a heavily bounded chest may cause unwarranted attention because it may appear that the passenger is hiding something underneath the wrap. When it comes to a body search, the best route is to ask to be screened privately.

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African Countries and Their LGBT Laws

Country LGBT Rights
Algeria Illegal since 1966

Penalty: Fine and up to 2 years imprisonment.

Canary Islands Legal
Ceuta Legal
Egypt Male de facto illegal since 2000, Female uncertain

Penalty: Up to 17 years imprisonment with or without hard labour and with or without fines under broadly-written morality laws

Libya Illegal since 1953
Madeira Legal
Melilla Legal
Morocco Illegal since 1962

Penalty: Up to 3 years imprisonment

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Illegal since 1944

Penalty: Up to 3 years imprisonment

South Sudan Illegal since 1899

Penalty: Up to 10 years imprisonment

Sudan Illegal since 1899

Penalty: Death penalty on third offense for men and on fourth offense for women

Tunisia Illegal since 1913

Penalty: 3 years imprisonment.

Benin Legal (No laws against same-sex sexual activity have ever existed in the country)
Burkina Faso Legal (No laws against same-sex sexual activity have ever existed in the country)
Cape Verde Legal
Côte d’Ivoire Legal
Gambia Illegal since 1888

Penalty: Life imprisonment

Ghana Male illegal since 1860s

Penalty: 10 years imprisonment or more

Female always legal.

Guinea Illegal since 1988

Penalty: 6 months to 3 years imprisonment.

Guinea-Bissau Legal
Liberia Illegal since 1976

Penalty: 1 year imprisonment

Mali Legal
Mauritania Illegal since 1983

Penalty: Death penalty

Niger Legal
Nigeria Illegal under federal law since 1901

Penalty: Up to 14 years imprisonment
Illegal in the states of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara

Penalty: Death penalty for men. Whipping and/or imprisonment for women.

Senegal Illegal since 1966

Penalty: 1 to 5 years imprisonment

Sierra Leone Male illegal since 1861

Penalty: Up to life imprisonment (Not enforced)
Female always legal

Togo Illegal since 1884

Penalty: Fine and 3 years imprisonment

Cameroon Illegal since 1972

Penalty: Fines to 5 years imprisonment.

Central African Republic Legal
Chad Illegal since 2016.
Democratic Republic of the Congo Legal
Equatorial Guinea Legal
Gabon Legal
Republic of the Congo Legal
Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Legal
São Tomé and Príncipe Legal
Burundi Illegal since 2009

Penalty: 3 months to 2 years imprisonment.

Kenya Illegal since 1897

Penalty: up to 14 years imprisonment

Rwanda Legal since 1980
Uganda Male illegal since 1894

Penalty: Up to life in prison or vigilante execution

Tanzania Illegal

Penalty: Up to life imprisonment.

Djibouti Legal
Eritrea Illegal

Penalty: Up to 3 years imprisonment

Ethiopia Illegal

Penalty: 10 years imprisonment or more

Somalia Illegal

Penalty: Up to death

Somaliland Illegal

Penalty: Up to death

British Indian Ocean Territory Legal
Comoros Illegal since 1982

Penalty: 5 years imprisonment & fines

French Southern and Antarctic Lands Legal

(No laws against same-sex sexual activity have ever existed)

Madagascar Legal

(No laws against same-sex sexual activity have ever existed in the country).

Mauritius Male: Illegal

Penalty: Up to 5 years imprisonment
Female: Legal

Mayotte Legal
Réunion Legal
Seychelles Legal since 2016
Angola De facto illegal

Penalty: Fines, restrictions or penal labor (Not enforced)

Botswana Illegal

Penalty: Fine to up to 7 years imprisonment (Not enforced)

Lesotho Legal
Malawi Illegal

Penalty: Up to 14 years imprisonment & whippings (Law suspended from usage since 2012)

Mozambique Legal since 2015
Namibia Male: illegal (not enforced)
Female: always legal
South Africa Legal
Swaziland Male: illegal
Female always legal
Zambia Illegal

Penalty: up to 14 years imprisonment

Zimbabwe Male: illegal

Female legal

Now you are ready for your adventure to the African country of your choice. All that’s left is to search fly africa for the cheapest flight rates. You can find cheap flights to Kigali, flights to Abuja, flights to Johannesburg and much more.

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