IAM at 25: Civil Society partners reflect on their work with IAM (Linda Chamane)

Investments in partnerships with individual activists and organisations in our community form an integral part of how IAM is effecting change. We reached out to several civil society partners we’ve interacted with over the years and asked them to reflect on our work together and the impact that IAM has on their work and the community more broadly.

Linda Chamane grew up in Edendale in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and is no stranger to hardship. As a trans woman, she was disowned by her father, experienced abuse, transphobia-motivated hate crimes, and experienced exclusion from her religious community and community at large. Her privileges were taken away because she did not live up to her parent’s expectations of a boy. “I used my past hurts to drive me in turning my disadvantages into advantages by means of empowering other LGBTIQ+ folks in my community, particularly the rural and township context where I come from, that are experiencing similar situations and find themselves without support. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, but instead, be inspired by my resilience and to never underestimate their abilities no matter how tough their situations get.” 

Linda’s personal connection with IAM goes back to her time with the Pietermaritzburg, the Gay and Lesbian Network (a grass-root LGBTIQ+ organization in KwaZulu-Natal), where she first met Thuli Mjwara – currently IAM’s Process Coordinator. There she was working on supporting trans and gender diverse people to access healthcare, including sexual and reproductive health, gender affirming health care and access to services.

After formally changing her gender marker to be aligned with the gender she identifies with, she decided to look for a job in Cape Town. “I wanted to start over in an environment where nobody knew me, where I could live as my true self, as my true identity.” When she took a position as Health Advocacy Officer at Gender DynamiX in Cape Town, she uprooted herself and moved there with no money and few contacts. She reached out to Thuli who put her in contact with IAM’s safe house, iThemba Lam. “I was so scared because I had never been so far from home.” IAM’s iThemba Lam team helped her to settle in, to know that she was safe and had a place to stay until she received her first paycheck. “The environment at iThemba Lam was very warm and welcoming, and for the first time I had a sense of belonging since the environment there was affirming and accepting, and for the very first time in years that’s when I started feeling that “okay, this is me, I don’t have to worry about what people think of me, I can be myself, be a womxn in my own right and not be reminded of who I’m supposed to be, just because I do not live up to their expected “societal gender norms” and the boxes and boundaries that they come with.”

In her work at Gender DynamiX she focused on health care and human rights and providing technical support and training to healthcare institutions, organisations and clinics. She continued to partner with IAM and iThemba Lam, and worked alongside Thuli as part of the community advisory board for the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF) clinical trials. Together they partnered to train and sensitize healthcare providers including the wider DTHF staff and community advisory board focusing on Gender Affirming Healthcare, inclusive human rights and access to services for LGBTIQ+ persons. 

She appreciates the welcoming nature of the IAM team, and how they are focused on helping their partners heal their historical scars. To this end, Linda took part in IAM’s Journey of Hope workshops last year and has continued her own healing process. “Though I grew up in a very Christian household, I have been excluded from my church. I remember the time when I taking care of my grandmother when she was sick and in the end I was side-lined and not even allowed to say goodbye and pay my respects to her at her funeral just because they believe I was possessed by demons because of my transness.  I was very insulted and experienced a lot of emotions around that exclusion, and that was the last time I ever went to church.” Through her participation in the Journey of Hope workshop she has started on a path back towards her faith. “Having been part of the Journey of Hope I realised that it’s about time that I start focusing on my healing as well, and go back and take up space in the very same environment that excluded me as a trans body, in the very same community that excluded me, that didn’t want to accept me for the woman that I am.”

Linda is doing just that with her new organisation, Iphimbo Lothingo, the Voice of the Rainbow, an organisation advocating for, providing support to and raising visibility and awareness on bisexual, trans & intersex people in KwaZulu-Natal & beyond. “I am back in Pietermaritzburg, I am living in this very same community where I would get beaten just because I am trans, in that very same community that discriminated against me and ridiculed me, and in the same community where I constantly watched over my back wondering what’s going to happen next, whether I am going to be next victim of hate crime or corrective rape, yes I am taking up space in that very same environment for the benefit of future queer generations especially from a rural and township setting, through my organisation I am setting out those goals in eliminating transphobia, homophobia and biphobia.”

Though still brand new, the organisation is starting to have the impact that she hopes for.  “Now when we have women’s meetings the community invites me. Things are slowly shifting – the community now realises that people like us exist because I’ve been visible. I feel that I have made way for the next generation because I’ve lived as a trans woman for as long as I can remember, and now I’m seeing other trans folks coming out and coming to me, I’m seeing women coming to me as well trying to find support because of the work I have been doing from a young age in fighting against exclusion. I’ve been providing that support and using the networks that I have in KZN to help people access psychotherapy and psychosocial support.”

Linda’s experience with IAM has reinforced for her the need for organisations like IAM doing this work. “Because of IAM I found healing and I have seen the immense impact they’ve had on the LGBTIQ+ and faith structures including educational and faith-based institutions. Because of their work, we now have access to some of these institutions knowing we are in an environment that accept us for whom we are and cater for our diverse needs. Because of the trainings IAM has held, we can now access go to churches that value diversity and appreciate everyone regardless of how they identify. IAM lets people know that LGBTI people are here, that we exist, and that God loves us. They use the Bible to open up spaces, finding ways to use it to let people know that “this is what the Bible says about diversity, this is what the Bible says about judging others – that God is love and no one should preach hate but instead they should preach love, and with love we should also preach acceptance as well. IAM has so much compassion.”