Anna Xwexx Morena on asylum and being a Ugandan transgender activist

Angela Santillo
Dec 2 · 26 min read

This is a transcript from episode 47 of the podcast And Then Suddenly.

This episode is part of And Then Suddenly; Rising Voice(s). This special series features conversations with partners from Voice. Based in Africa and Asia, these individuals -often leaders of organizations or small groups- are working tirelessly to ensure that their own voices as well as those they represent are at the table and not on the menu. The moments they share are their very own and the conversations are impromptu and candid.


Angela Santillo
Imagine me or you. Imagine knowing at a young age that you are different. Imagine that you see your difference contrasted every day and the relationships you grow up around. Imagine that your peers hurl insults at you, defining how you are different. Imagine that the social and cultural institutions inform you that your difference is not acceptable. Imagine that you long to be with others who are also different, but don’t have a way to connect with them. Imagine knowing that coming out to your healthcare provider will cause you more issues. Imagine you don’t know where you can get the mental health services you need. Imagine your partner beats you or hurts you. And after that, he or she says they love you. Imagine your child, he or she is going through mental health issues because of his/her sexuality or discrimination within the society.

This is And Then Suddenly, the podcast about the unexpected moments that turn our lives upside down. I’m Angela Santillo. And welcome to the show about big life moments only I don’t know what my guests are going to talk about until we meet. That’s the catch. And you just heard a poem by Elvis Ayesiega. Now, Elvis is part of Icebreakers Uganda. That is an organization that was founded in 2004 and they cater to the needs of LGBT people in Uganda. And that poem was from his recent publication, it’s a survey called “Invisible Scars.” And it focuses on the mental health of queer people and Uganda. And it was supported by Voice, and Voice is my partner for today. So welcome to our special series. This is the fourth episode of “And Then Suddenly; Rising Voice(s).” And you’re about to hear four of these episodes in a row in honor of Human Rights Day, which is coming up on December 10. Fun fact it’s the 70th anniversary of that day. So, you are about to hear four episodes back to back of guests from Asia and Africa. They are often leaders of small organizations and they are working hard to make sure that their voice along with those that they represent are at the table and not on the menu. And Voice is an integrated grant facility. They promote diversity and inclusion in 10 countries in Asia and Africa. They aim to amplify and connect thus far unheard voices in efforts to leave no one behind based on the principle of nothing about us without us. And Voice is financed by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it’s executed by Oxfam Novib and Hivos.

Now, this episode is coming out in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. And that happens on November 20, and that is to honor the memory of those murdered in acts of anti-transgender violence. So, this episode will cover some serious topics. Fair warning, but it’s a great listen. I hope you stay tuned in.

Now, I tried to find stats about anti-transgender violence and that proved to be quite difficult. The closest I could find was a Forbes article, a recent Forbes article that said that globally this year 331 trans and gender diverse people have been killed. The majority of those murders happened in Brazil, and 30 of them happened in the United States. And the problem with that stat is a lot of countries don’t actually take that data. And a lot of transgender and gender non-conforming people don’t report their crimes, because they fear that they won’t get support from their local justice systems or the police. So that stat isn’t true. But it’s the closest I could find and you know, what is true is that there is an ongoing and unslowing epidemic of violence committed against change gender and gender non-conforming people. And those acts are horrific hate crimes. They include things like extortion, physical and sexual assaults, and murder. And it’s one thing to fear that your local police force won’t believe you but it’s another thing to have that kind of discrimination within the law.

And one of those laws is Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality act of 2013. It made being a gender or sexual minority a punishable offense, and that punishment could be a life prison sentence. Now, that law was annulled in 2014. But members of the LGBT community over there still face a lot of violence and discrimination. So, things like physical and sexual assault, blackmail, extortion, and a lot of victims of those crimes won’t report them because they’re fearful of the police. And if you’ve been reading anything about international news, you might have read recently that members of Uganda’s Parliament are very interested in bringing back that law. Only this time they want to make acts of homosexuality a punishable offense but punishable by death.

Now “Invisible Scars” looks at the mental health needs of LGBT people in Uganda. I mentioned it before and I’m going to include a link to this report in addition to links to other articles that I used for the facts and figures for this intro so go to the show notes for this episode to read all those. But when you go to “Invisible Scars,” the first thing you read is that amazing poem by Elvis. But then there is an overview of mental health history for LGBT people in Uganda. And it starts off with talking about the DSM. So, the DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s used by any health care professional or mental health care professional, I should say, in diagnosing your mental health problems. And in the 60s, the US had homosexuality as a mental illness. That was removed in 1973. And in 2012, there was talk that some health care providers in Uganda was using the old DSM. And it was really surprising when they interviewed healthcare workers that most of them believe that homosexuals, we’re insane people deserving of psychiatric intervention. And people were really surprised that so many healthcare workers thought this and the conclusion was that many healthcare workers were applying their personal values, whether that be religious, cultural, or traditional when treating homosexuals and that went against code of ethics, and it allowed to discriminatory practices.

So, “Invisible Scars” found that their research confirms that LGBT individuals face health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination and denial of their civil and human rights. And that stigma and discrimination is associated with higher rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. So, within the group that they studied, a higher proportion of those who identify as transgender had attempted suicide. Transgender women were twice as likely to have self-harmed as males. And I am really lucky that my guest today was a transgender woman who participated in the “Invisible Scars” study, and my guest today is Anna Xwexx Morena.

Now, I heard her say her name and I thought Xwexx has to be made up. I’ve never heard that name before. And she confirmed that she did make it up. And then of course, I had to know the definition right away because I’m a word person, I need to know definitions. So, her definition of Xwexx is that it comes from a deep part of her that seeks uniqueness and creativity which she feels truly defines a part of her. So that is my guest today and I’m really thankful that I got to talk to her despite some technical difficulties, but it happened, and I’m really honored to be able to share her story with you.

Anna Xwexx Morena
Okay, my name is Anna Xwexx Morena. I’m from Uganda. I’m 21 years old. I don’t really say my age. I rarely say my age. I am a trans youth activists walking at a grassroot level, having an expertise in mental health, human rights and performing arts.

Angela Santillo
Perfect. All right, and what is one moment that changed everything for you?

Anna Xwexx Morena
One moment that changed everything for me was when I decided to seek asylum in Denmark. It was a few years back, probably three or four. And everything didn’t go as planned actually. So, I found myself in a lot of trauma, depression, and didn’t have anyone to reach out to. I ran out of cash. It was so hard for me to live in such an environment. I ended up coming back to Uganda, where my life was threatened because they did have an option. I didn’t feel safe in the place that I was, I felt like everyone wanted to kill me. I was so paranoid. I felt like I was getting multi-purpose disorders. I had people in my head, people that had traumatized my life.

Angela Santillo
And can you explain what led you to seek asylum?

Anna Xwexx Morena
My life was being threatened. And besides that, I felt I needed a new space where I could embrace my identity and sexual orientation and give the world the better version of me. Because I felt like in Uganda my rights are being deprived. I thought I could be of help to other transwomen that are in Uganda. There may be some help I could give, in any way.

Angela Santillo
So then you were like, you’re 21 now so that was when you were 17 you left?

Anna Xwexx Morena
Yes. And apparently when I was leaving my documents didn’t show 17 because I didn’t want to have issues with the immigration and passport control.

Angela Santillo
Because that’s considered still a minor?

Anna Xwexx Morena
Yeah, exactly.

Angela Santillo
So, you mentioned you wanted to leave so you could help other trans women in Uganda. What was your hope? What were you hoping your life was going to be when you got to Denmark?

Anna Xwexx Morena
I felt like, what I really thought was my life was going to change. I didn’t expect it to change so fast, but I felt I needed gradual change to learn from experiences and be able to give a certain kind of help to transgender women. Be it help with seeking asylum, financial help because that’s part of the pain of transgender woman because I’ve been through that same situation, and various other small help I could give, that I could afford. That was within my means.

Angela Santillo
Got it. So, you being in a safe place or a safer place and having more opportunities, you could then give that back and help other transgender women with their situations back in Uganda.

Anna Xwexx Morena
Yes.

Angela Santillo
Wow. So how long did you stay in Denmark?

Anna Xwexx Morena
It was four years. I think three and a half. Yes, three and a half. That is what I would say.

Angela Santillo
Wow. So, you recently just got back to Uganda then?

Anna Xwexx Morena
Yes.

Angela Santillo
Well, and before I move forward, I have never talked to anyone who sought asylum. And I’m just curious, what was that experience like for you? What do you have to do to get those documents and what did it feel like to finally leave?

Anna Xwexx Morena
To me I feel seeking asylum can be sought- you can get really new ways. And my side, I had people I knew in Denmark because even when I was- even before I left, I had some small activism work I was doing at my grassroot level. It was like my way, my only way to get to Denmark and with a few connections I had made, I managed to get a lady who helped me and get there. But unfortunately, she wanted to just use me for her selfish political issues and all that. So, I thought like I was not going to be able to, you know, accommodate that within me cause I’m having a lot of trauma. You know, being in a country that is new and you feel like maybe the person you are with is going to help you reach the next level and all they’re just using is- all they’re just doing is use you for their own selfish use and then just let you go. Because you’re just less to her.

Angela Santillo
So now you mentioned the performing arts, and I also do the performing arts. And I’ve heard, now this isn’t the same, necessarily, but when I talked to transgender actors, they often talk about that they feel like they’re being used as props for theaters who hire them or TV shows. That people want to look like they’re really informed or progressive because they’re hiring someone transgender. That kind of reminds me of that experience where you’re feeling like you’re being used by someone just so they can get like street cred in a way.

Anna Xwexx Morena
It’s very true.

Angela Santillo
Yeah, is that what’s happening here to?

Anna Xwexx Morena
It’s happening because even yesterday, I was at a show as called to model and do some voguing. But it was just because they wanted to bring that issue because they feel maybe it is a certain kind of style, that donors want to see that they’re bringing on inclusion, but it’s not what they want.

Angela Santillo
And that must be really weird to leave a country out of a need for safety. Right? You mentioned that you felt like you were in danger or you experienced dangerous situations, and then to go to another country and just be used and not seen. It’s like the same. It’s another form of just not being seen as a human.

Anna Xwexx Morena
Exactly.

Angela Santillo
And were you able to do any kind of activism work when you were in Denmark?

Anna Xwexx Morena
No, I was not able because everything was just happening so fast. So short notice, I reached a point where I could not even take care of myself, you know?

Angela Santillo
As far as money, or mental health, or what was difficult about taking care of yourself?

Anna Xwexx Morena
Financially I was not able because as a sex worker, as an escort in Denmark and I was highly paid, but all this just stopped because my friends could not handle my situation. You know I’m so paranoid, I felt so insecure, I reached a point of putting cameras at my apartment where I was renting. I reached the point where I could not afford the apartment. And then I had a client of mine I knew that I borrowed money from just to get a ticket back to Uganda. And when I got the ticket back to Uganda, I knew I was not going to be able to seek asylum in Denmark anymore because I ran away from Uganda and now I’m coming back so my asylum is consoled.

Angela Santillo
Wow. Are sex workers protected in Denmark?

Anna Xwexx Morena
I can’t say they are really protected because you don’t know the client, the type of clients you meet. And especially as a transgender person you don’t know who wants to harm you and who wishes good for you. So, it’s a matter of always keeping in touch with the people you feel are okay with whatever you’re doing, and also getting the police involved in any way. I’d always been on alert because you don’t know what is going to happen.

Angela Santillo
Yeah. But like you wouldn’t-because in most states in America, if they find that you do that work it’s a criminal act. But it sounds like in Denmark, it’s not a criminal act, but it’s still the same dangers of you don’t know who the person is coming for you or coming to you.

Anna Xwexx Morena
Exactly. Yes.

Angela Santillo
So it wasn’t that police would arrest you for doing the work in general, it was that you’re still putting your body at risk. Right?

Anna Xwexx Morena
Exactly. Yes, yes.

Angela Santillo
Wow. So, then you were doing that work the whole time?

Anna Xwexx Morena
I was doing the work the whole time because you know, we as transgender women, especially in Africa, we are school dropouts. And as for me as a school dropout, no person that is going to be able to employ me because of my gender, and maybe my knowledge. And remember in Europe like Denmark, being an activist is not work. It is passion. So, you can’t be an activist and depend on it. So, you need to have an outside income that is helping you sustain it. And I had a chance that as a young girl, black girl, beautiful, courageous, and intelligent and so many people wanted me just for that.

Angela Santillo
And especially being so young.

Anna Xwexx Morena
Exactly.

Angela Santillo
You mentioned that a lot of transgender youth, I think you said- I don’t know if you said in Uganda or in Africa but that they drop out of school. Why does that happen?

Anna Xwexx Morena
It happens a lot because the schools we attend are faith based, or Christian based, or Muslim based. Basically, religion is in school, they always have religious attachments to them. So it’s like, when they find out you’re transgender or you identify as transgender you immediately get thrown out because they find it immoral, disgusting. So, there’s a lot of ignorance even within the school community.

Angela Santillo
Oh man. And that, you know…then what happens? You talked about the hope that if you sought asylum, you could help other transgender youth. What do people in the transgender community face when they leave, when they have to drop out of school and then they’re just in this society with not the highest level of education as their peers? What happens to people you know in Uganda with this situation?

Anna Xwexx Morena
You know a lot happens because some of them don’t have sense of direction, they don’t have people to look up to. They feel like their lives have ended, they feel like they’re useless. So, most of them actually turn to drugs. Because even the people I’m dealing with right now are people who inject drugs too. And most of this-actually this has resulted into mental health problems, you know, they’re injecting drugs and need to have rehabilitation. And the other number turns to sex work because it is only way they can survive. They’re also being arrested and taken into prison. Others have been killed and murdered, others are committing suicide. Others just turn to deny who they really, go back to deny it in a way that they don’t want to identify as transgender and pretend to be straight. And so, in a way they are tortured their entire life.

Angela Santillo
That’s, I mean….you said that you’re working with people and it sounds like the pressures on the transgender community it’s from all around, it’s a lot of like trauma, it’s a lot of mistreatment. How can you help people who are experiencing such like widespread- I don’t want to say discrimination maybe I do? But like widespread trauma and isolation. How do you help them?

Anna Xwexx Morena
First of all like us, like a mental health champion, and I try to extend mental health services near to the transgender people in all the five regions of Uganda in any way possible. In any way possible because I understand their pain. I’m also trying as a young person to, you know, get involved within international spaces to fundraise and maybe lobby for funds to help sensitize people about transgender issues, especially in the rural areas because most people are doing sensitization within the central region and forgetting that very many transgender people are at the rural and grassroot level. So, my work is basically grassroots, working to empower transgender women, help them understand their value actually, help them understand that they need help. Because before you help a person, you need to help them understand they need help. It is the first step to healing.

Angela Santillo
And what is that like, you know, these people experiencing such denial of their basic worth I would say, and then someone like you comes around and you say, “I’m here to help you because I understand and you’re worth it.” What’s the kind of reaction you get to the work that you do with the people you’re working with?

Anna Xwexx Morena
You know, I get a very good reaction. For some, some transgender women they’re closed to trust people because of the past relationships they’ve been through so they may they think maybe I’m trying to use them, make money out of them. But the most reaction is they’re so happy. But again, it hurts me that I feel I want to help, and they don’t have a platform to help them at fighting so hard. And there’s a lot of politics within our activism industry. It’s like, our activism industry here in Uganda is so dormant because to me, I feel people have turned it into my daily job. And to me, it’s supposed to be a passion, because you look at the past 20 years, the people that pioneered our movement, it’s still the same. We’re not having change, and they are refusing to accept the grassroots activists who are willing to work, who are there to help transgender people. And you know, I’m even fighting for trans people to come to occupy various spaces because we are misrepresented and being misgendered. You know, it’s so hard being in a space where you identify as transgender and you’re supposed to occupy that space, but you find someone pretending to be transgender and they are not even addressing issues of transgender people.

Angela Santillo
Are these like…I don’t want to say the old timer activists, that might be offensive.

Anna Xwexx Morena
Yes.

Angela Santillo
But these people who are older who have been in this space longer, are these people who are just LGBT activists or these people who are specifically transgender? Where’s that divide coming up that you want more progress, but they’re stuck behind? Like what kind of work are they doing?

Anna Xwexx Morena
It’s much as I’m walking in- as an expert in the trans movement and wanting to help transgender people, this runs across the LGBT community in Uganda. You know, because lesbians and gays progressed faster than transgender people. And by the time people didn’t even understand what transgender women are, it took us a lot of years to do advocacy and create a way. So, to me, it runs across community because we need to rise. We are very few, we are so few to an extent that I’ve only met maybe something like 600–700 transgender people in my whole entire life in Uganda, but I believe there are those that I have not yet reached but I hope to reach. You know, so if we are a few how do we create, how do we strategize and make people understand that we’re also human beings? How do we help people understand that we can be more than sex workers? How do we help people understand we are beyond what they think we are?

Angela Santillo
And in Europe-like let’s say you get your dream world, right? Like tomorrow you wake up and the activism space has changed to exactly the way you want it. What does that look like?

Anna Xwexx Morena
Well, it’s something beautiful. It’s wonderful in a way that it means we are a step ahead of the world, of the vision of the world I want to create. It means that we’re having room for improvement. It means we are going to build a new army of trans activist or LGBT activists who are going to occupy spaces, spread the love, spread the message, the gospel of LGBTIQ persons. Create awareness, lobby for funds, fundraise, and then in fact, it will also help us divide people according to their expertise. You know, that if I might look, if we have five transgender people that advocating for HIV, we’re having five activists that are advocating for human rights, we have five activists that are having an expertise in performing arts, we are having five activists…it would also bring a lot of emphasis on specialty expertise in certain things.

Angela Santillo
That’s interesting. Allowing instead of, you know, because I imagined…now I’m not an activist in the LGBT space, but I feel like there’s so many groups within LGBT, right? And there’s so many areas you could focus on. It’s interesting, that really seems smart like to have people who are just really experts in very specific areas instead of maybe like- I would assume, there’s a problem in being too broad in this space. And then if you’re too broad, you can’t actually make the highest level of impact because you’re concerned with too many issues. Is that right to say with LBGT activists where you are?

Anna Xwexx Morena
Exactly. You know, like I’ve said, delegation is important. Delegation is important because one person cannot do a hundred things at once. One person cannot be in 10 places at once. It is about delegation and trust, knowing that I have a person who is going to speak on trans issues and make the point reach to where it’s exactly supposed to reach. Knowing that you have a person who’s going to advocate for HIV young people living with HIV, and you know, they’re going to make the point reach, you know?

Angela Santillo
Yeah.

Anna Xwexx Morena
So I feel it is. Yes.

Angela Santillo
So you’ve been back in Uganda like six months?

Anna Xwexx Morena
Yes.

Angela Santillo
Is that right?

Anna Xwexx Morena
No… yes, yes, yes, yes.

Angela Santillo
And it sounds like when you left Denmark, like you were mentioning some, I guess, mental health issues las far as the cameras, as far as not being able to trust, you know, people around you. It sounds like you’ve been able to do a lot of work very quickly once you got back to Uganda. What has allowed you to just hit the ground running after you came back from asylum?

Anna Xwexx Morena
I noticed that coming back to Uganda with my vision unaccomplished, I felt like this is the time to come up with a new vision and strategize on how to help transgender people. So, this again gave me a motivation to work harder and, you know, something like that.

Angela Santillo
Yeah, yeah. Because it sounds like the work that you’re doing now compared to like the work you talked about in Denmark or the reception you got in Denmark, I Imagine the need to make an impact and the need to live up to your own expectations or to use your skills in the in the powerful way you knew that was possible, it sounds like that just made that need…it was more and more something you want to like…how do I say this? Like you were stuck in Denmark. That probably drove the need for you to want to go somewhere and achieve instead of saying one place. Is that fairly right?

Anna Xwexx Morena
It’s fairly right. It’s fairly right.

Angela Santillo
How do you feel in Uganda now compared to how you felt when you left?

Anna Xwexx Morena
You know, right now, I am at a point where I barely have anything in my life. But one thing that makes me happy is to see that the people I call family are happy that I’m creating change, positive change within my community. My fellow transwomen appreciate it. I could never ask for anything better than that. Because it is what I’ve always wanted. Being in a place where I’m appreciated and doing positive things for my community, and then being able to share the little that I have with my transgender women, and they told me, “Thank you.” It just makes me feel like the queen of the world.

Angela Santillo
Do you feel safer in Uganda now that you have these experiences compared to before when you were in Uganda and the lack of safety made you want to leave?

Anna Xwexx Morena
To me right now, it’s not about if I feel safe or not. It is about me being able to inspire and give strength to the transgender women that are within the community now. Because if I decide to leave, that means I’m leaving many hearts behind and breaking a lot of trust very many people. And I feel that if I can give a sense of direction to other transgender women not to make the mistakes I’ve done and make their lives better, I feel like I’d rather sacrifice my life to see the trans community grow then be happy and let it die. Because it’s not my passion to see it die. My passion is to see it thrive and grow full formed and thick.

Angela Santillo
It sounds like your time in Denmark was full of lessons that you didn’t-well, not very little positive it sounded like, in the way you told it. What are the biggest things you learned during your time in asylum in Denmark?

Anna Xwexx Morena
You know, one thing I learned is you have to work hard and always follow your dream. I also learned that not everyone that smiles at you is your friend. Not everyone that tells you…not everyone you talk to wishes the best for you. It also taught me a lot. You know, I saw a lot of activists there on TV, I read a lot of blog posts, and they told me to be resilient. You know, if I have the ability to stay strong and get over certain issues in my life, it is my responsibility to pass on that information and courage to other transgender people, so that we can move with resilience amongst us. It could be a big tool for us in our fight for change. I also learned that it does not matter how many people you sensitize or your message reaches. It’s about giving contentment of the people you’re advocating for. Because the first thing I need to do is make sure that the person I’m advocating for feels appreciated within the community. So, to meet trans people are a priority. Those are things that I learned the hard way and the good way within my life experience.

Angela Santillo
What do you hope the future brings for you?

Anna Xwexx Morena
I feel the future is going to bring a lot of positive vibes towards my life because of the partnerships and alliances I’m creating. Like one. I’m so honored to be on your podcast and being questioned and sharing my story to inspire other transgender people. I feel there’s nothing more I could ask more than this. I also feel the future is going to give me an opportunity to also give transwomen the chance to shine, to take on spaces and advocate for change. Get the experience of true activism, national global activism. You know, I feel the future is bringing a lot of… how can I call it…appreciation towards our community because with the sensitization I’m doing around my community and maybe we even within East Africa, that transgender people are going to be accepted. Enjoy their rights as human beings, have the human rights, be proud of who they are, have peace within their communities and country, be able to express themselves without fear or favor, understanding who they are. You know, I feel there’s a lot of beauty within the future if we continue with the work we are doing and even lobby for more ways of how to you know, better our community.

Angela Santillo
How could someone like me help you achieve what you want to achieve? Or help you achieve this vision? So, like, I identify as a woman and I’m straight, I’m not of this community, but if I want to help this community. What can I do to help support you?

Anna Xwexx Morena
One thing you can do is spread love on who transgender women are. The first thing I always tell people is support, don’t punish. Please always remember, support, don’t punish. Even if you’re in any place around the world, always tell people to support and don’t punish. Another way you can help me is through various innovations. Maybe fundraising for various causes like a cause like this, coming and doing a documentary on transgender people so you can share it around the world. So, people can understand exactly what we’re talking about at various conferences because people are like, “You say trans people are suffering, but what shows they are really suffering?” So maybe you come into Uganda and do a documentary about transgender people and show it to the world, especially with your exposure and influence. I feel there is a way it could better activism industry and even our work as activists. Another way you could help me do my work is introducing me to people that have the potential and love to help the transgender community around the world. So, it’s more of creating partnerships and alliances. And maybe sharing your knowledge about podcasts that could be capacity building with a transwoman within Uganda so that they can also have a way of airing the voices in various ways.

Angela Santillo
Yeah. Cause I imagine that must be so hard to feel like you can share your story when you’ve had so much against you as far as communities, families, the way the country runs. I mean, it must be really hard for people to be able to feel safe enough to share their story in Uganda.

Anna Xwexx Morena
Yes.

Angela Santillo
Is that right?

Anna Xwexx Morena
Yes, yes. Yes, it is.

Angela Santillo
And that’s the first thing that you have to do for people to see you as human, right? Share your stories, then they can feel your experience, they can see you as a living person.

Anna Xwexx Morena
Yeah, and some people just listen to your story and just have pity for you. Because they’re like, “You’re marginalized, your trans, you’re facing a lot of discrimination and stigma.” And they’re like, “Oh sorry that you’re also going to hell.” Enough of this, it’s just a lot.

Angela Santillo
Yeah and you know, because I was reading- I mentioned before we started talking that I was reading the report that you were part. It’s “Invisible Scars,” right. That’s the name of the report.

Anna Xwexx Morena
Yes.

Angela Santillo
And I realized reading it and seeing what was happening with LGBT people in Uganda, I realized I was like, I am starting to feel a lot of pity. But like, that doesn’t actually help. But it’s tough. It’s tough to not. Yeah, but it does-like your story, I think there’s a lot of strength in your story. You’re 21, right?

Anna Xwexx Morena
Yes.

Angela Santillo
So you’ve been through a lot of different experiences but why do you think you’re able to do this work at 21? I know age is a state of mind. But it sounds like you have the confidence and the drive that some people around you don’t have based on similar experiences. What about you do you think makes you able to do this work?

Anna Xwexx Morena
Being able to realize that there is- what makes me really do this work is being able to realize that there is a certain point in the transgender community that needs help. And that to me was the mental health bit because everyone is doing human rights, I’m also doing human rights. So few people are doing performing arts but if you look at the work that I’ve done lately, you’re not going to find any transgender woman in Uganda doing mental health and others even have a fear that mental health shows that you are mad. That mental health can be depression, it can be trauma and anxiety. You know, so me understanding that there is room for me to help people and understanding that there is a problem that needs to be tackled.

Angela Santillo
Well, is there anything else you wanted to share something that you’ve been wanting to say but haven’t been able to?

Anna Xwexx Morena
I wanted to start my hormonal replacement therapy and I wanted to do this because I want to be a trans person who really is trans. Because even when I’m addressing people, identifying as a trans they’re seeing me in male clothes, it’s heartbreaking for me. And they don’t- I feel like they don’t even understand what transgender person is because they don’t even…they haven’t gotten a chance to experience or see a real transgender person. So, I was hoping that if in any way there could be any person who would like to help me, I would really appreciate.

Angela Santillo
Now Anna is in the process of starting her own organization called the Anna Foundation. But I’m gonna let her explain a bit about what her mission is.

Anna Xwexx Morena
First it was work I was doing at a grassroot level. And I realized we don’t have a trans youth organization in Uganda that is really working with transgender people, trans people exactly. So, I created the Anna Foundation, working with only transgender people and is being governed by transgender youth. Like as I said, it’s an initiative that I started in Denmark and then brought to Uganda. So part of what we’re doing with Elvis is see that I can get help with a website and also have prominent offices where these transgender people can come and do performing arts because it is also something I’m driving forward to help them rise talents, to empowerment, teach them how to do certain things, and also let them feel like they have a home that makes them feel safe. And they can come and rest because we have so many transgender women that are homeless. And maybe this office could have 2–3 rooms that these transgender women can always convene and have a place where they can put their head to sleep and then wake up to see the reality of finding a way forward to a better life.

Angela Santillo
Now, the Anna Foundation website is under construction. So, you can find Anna at Anna Xwexx Morena on Facebook and I will include that in the show notes for this episode. And you can connect with Voice by going to their website voice.global or finding them on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. And you can find And Then Suddenly on Facebook or Instagram or go on and head over to my website andthensuddenlypodcast.com. I thank you so much for listening and I encourage you to see the invisible. Have a good one.

Writer | Corporate Storyteller | Host of the And Then Suddenly podcast

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