Abstract: Bringing Visibility to the Invisible: An Exploration of the Unique Experiences of Transgender Individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Bringing Visibility to the Invisible: An Exploration of the Unique Experiences of Transgender Individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Temitope Oke, MSW, Doctoral student & Program Evaluator (Us Helping Us), University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
DeMarc Hickson, PhD, Executive Director, Us Helping Us People Into Living Inc., Washington, DC
Background and Purpose:Globally, transgender individuals experience persistent discrimination and face unique needs and barriers throughout their lives, including family, school, community, workplace, and healthcare. While studies on transgender health are gaining momentum in the United States and other developed countries, little is known about transgender individuals in sub-Saharan Africa. To our knowledge, there are no published studies that have explored the experiences and speak to the unmet needs of this population in West Africa, particularly in Nigeria. The anecdotal report indicates that some individuals in Nigeria identify as transgender. Yet, no study has systematically focused on exploring the existence of this vulnerable group in Nigeria, particularly to understand their lived experiences and healthcare needs. This study aimed to fill the dearth of knowledge and research on transgender people in Nigeria and qualitatively explored the lived experiences and healthcare needs among transgender individuals in Nigeria.

Methods: Transgender-identified individuals were recruited through two community-based organizations in Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria, and participated in three focus group discussions. The researchers conducted three group interviews, with each lasting approximately ninety minutes; two group interviews were conducted at a secure location in Abuja, and one group interview was conducted in Lagos. A semi-structured interview guide was used to guide the group discussions with questions focusing on the experiences of being a transgender individual living in Nigeria and the availability of /barriers to accessing needed services. Participants’ responses were transcribed verbatim and assigned into descriptive categories using a coding scheme.

Results: The qualitative data included transcripts from three focus groups conducted in Abuja (2 focus groups; n = 20) and Lagos (1 focus group; n = 5), with 25 transgender individuals. More than half (52%) of the participants were younger than 25 years of age, and (36%) were aged 26-35. The majority of the sample (80%) identified as transgender women. Participants reported difficult situations growing up in a Nigerian family while discovering their gender identity differed from their assigned sex at birth. Although some participants reported that they had not started the gender transition process, other participants reported being on hormones (estrogen) for transgender-related purposes through self-medication of pills obtained via the Black market. Several participants also reported experiencing high rates of violence from childhood to adulthood, which stems from the persistent stigma and discrimination faced by members of the LGBTQ community in Nigeria.

Conclusion and Implication: This qualitative exploration revealed the horrendous circumstances and issues faced by transgender individuals in a country (Nigeria) that does not accept the existence of LGBTQ individuals. Our findings highlight the need for a holistic approach that should include policy changes and the implementation of culturally sensitive and tailored services to address the unique needs and discrimination of trans-identified individuals in Nigeria.