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The 'Pearl Of Africa' Is Uganda's First Openly Trans Woman

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For Cleopatra Kambugu, feeling welcome in her home country of Uganda would be a luxury.

With the African nation's strict anti-LGBT movement still heavily brewing, being an openly transgender woman at this time is simply out of the question. But she's ready to share her brave story in the film "The Pearl of Africa," premiering at the Canadian international documentary film festival, Hot Docs, in Toronto.

Despite being assigned male at birth, Kambugu explains in the film's trailer that she has always felt like a woman, "Beneath, I'm feminine and free," she says. "But as I step out of this dream, I wake to this body, and carry on through hell."

the pearl of africa

In 2009, Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill "to establish a comprehensive consolidated legislation to protect the traditional family by prohibiting (i) any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex; and (ii) the promotion or recognition of such sexual relations in public institutions."

The bill also suggested that homosexual individuals and couples made the children and youth of Uganda "vulnerable" to sexual abuse and deviation and were a "threat" to the traditional family.

But while the bill was later struck down in 2014, some opposition groups still planned to pass new anti-LGBT laws at the time.

About a week after the bill was passed seven years ago, Kambugu remembers being outed as transgender on the cover of Red Pepper, one of the biggest tabloids in Uganda, with the headline, "How We Became Homosexuals."

"I officially lost my job and several of my family members abandoned me fearing for their safety," the 28-year-old recalls. "It was a tough time, my mom had to come up with food on the nights so we would have something to eat."

Kambugu later moved to Nairobi, Kenya, with her boyfriend Nelson, where she was offered not only a job, but a sense of security.

For Kambugu, her primary wish is to showcase the trans community in a whole new light for her home country. Watch the trailer above to find out more about her story.

"The Pearl of Africa" premieres at Hot Docs on Saturday, April 30th, 2016. For tickets and more info, click here.

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