Gboko Stewart, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monrovia-The Liberia Equality Network has launched a livelihood training program targeting underprivileged trans women and queer men in slum communities across Monrovia.
LEN is a human rights organization that advocates for marginalized groups.
The program, which includes training in beauty and cosmetology, baking and catering, and soap making, is funded by ISDAO.
ISDAO is an activist-led fund dedicated to building a West African movement that advocates for sexual diversity and sexual rights through a flexible approach to grantmaking and the strengthening of a culture of philanthropy committed to promoting human rights and social justice.
Since 2019, the organization has given US$122,054 to support underground queer-led organizations in Liberia. LEN is among five recipients of a grant from the West African organization.
The program, according to LEN, targets 30 trans women and queer men who are struggling economically to eke a living.
At a program held in one of the biggest slums on Friday, September 30, the Program manager, who wished not to be identified, of LEN said the project is meant to empower the beneficiaries economically and financially.
“We’re making sure that you are not left out–empower your pocket and be useful to society,” he said.
The training, he said, is going to last for a month, adding that the duration is short but exhaustive on the basics for the trainees. “A strategy was developed because it’s not possible to learn it all in one month. We want you to get out there after one month to be able to actualize your skills,” he mentioned.
He said the trainees should consider themselves lucky because their office was flooded with a stream of applications. “A lot of people applied but many were not qualified.”
LGBTI persons continue to come under threats and record instances of assault, harassment, and hate speech, according to the 2021 US State Department Human Rights Report on Liberia.
LGBTQI+ persons faced discrimination in accessing housing, health care, employment, and education, the report stated. According to the report, “there were several reports from activists that property owners refused housing to members of the LGBTQI+ community by either denying applications or evicting residents from their properties.”
The trans community is the most vulnerable to these attacks. In May 2021, three individuals – two of whom identify as trans women – were brutally assaulted on their way home from a wake-keeping ceremony in the bustling Red Light area of Paynesville.
The training opportunity by LEN is seen as a step in the right direction for the trans community.
Despite the existence of the trans organization, Trans Network of Liberia, many people who identify as trans continue to linger on the margins of extreme poverty, lack access to empowerment and livelihood training opportunities, and lack of access to basic healthcare.
During COVID-19, a group of trans women was reportedly beaten in the slum community of West Point.
An inquiry by journalRAGE seeking an explanation on the expenditure of funds from an online fundraiser meant to help the trans community has been rebuffed repeatedly by TNOL.
Royal Royal (named changed to protect her identity), 21, identifies as a trans woman. She said her interest is in the catering program as it is going to help her immensely.
“I am living on my own–unemployed since graduating from high school. I have been sitting home and not doing anything,” she said. “No job.”
Royal said she remains optimistic that the program is beneficial as “anything from the training will help me.”
“The way I will pay attention will benefit me.”
Kim Kardarshian, 32, also identifies as a trans woman. Possessing a towering height, the lanky trans woman said it is important for every queer-identifying person in Liberia to learn a skill to empower them. “Especially marginalized people who are placed out by their parents,” she highlighted.
According to Ms. Kardarshian, she’s a makeup artist and she also does manicure and pedicure services. Under the training by the Liberia Equality Network, she is enrolling in the catering program to enable her to hone her cooking skills.
Kim Kardashian and Royal Royal appear ecstatic about the program. The executive director of LEN, Mark Pauler (name changed), revealed that the organization is also providing transportation per diem and refreshments for the participants to be able to attend.
“We realize that many of them come from places that are very far,” he said. “So what we have planned is to provide transportation and food when they come for training so that they keep coming.”
Paul said at the end of the training, participants will graduate and be given seed funding to jumpstart their own business in the respective programs they have chosen.
He said the organization wishes to go further but it is hindered by limited funding.
“We got about 100 applications but we had to streamline and cut it to 30 due to limited funding. If we had more funding from other partners or if other partners would love to fund the program, it will be great for people from these marginalized communities.”
This article was funded in part through a grant from the US State Department.
Editor’s note: Due to security concerns, some of those listed asked for their names to be changed or removed.