Home affairs trauma for Pretoria transgender woman

Pretoria - A transgender woman has told of her trauma at being mistreated by Department of Home Affairs officials in Centurion, who allegedly prevented her from applying for a gender change in her ID book on Wednesday.

Armed with the necessary medical reports, Juanita van Zyl, 36, went to the Centurion branch an hour before it opened on Wednesday. She wanted to apply to have her gender changed on her identity document.

However, not only was Van Zyl incorrectly referred to as "sir", even though she presented as a woman, she was also told by an official that her medical reports did not have a stamp from her doctor.

"The one official didn't understand [about gender change]," said Van Zyl.

Officials then asked her four times, in front of other members of the public, about her gender change.

What’s needed

Van Zyl was then incorrectly informed that the medical reports from her doctors were without the supposedly necessary stamps.

"The photo shows [the doctor's] letterhead with all the information you would usually find on the stamp. Despite me doing my best to explain this to them, they insisted on the stamp," said Van Zyl.

The Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act of 2003 required persons applying for gender changes on their IDs to have two medical reports, one by the medical practitioner who applied hormone treatment or from a surgeon who had performed the gender reassignment surgery.

The second report must be from another medical practitioner who had independently examined the application. Nowhere on home affairs website was it stated that applicants required a stamp on their medical reports.

"I feel like the stamp was a bullshit thing," said Van Zyl.

Speaking to News24 by phone, a tearful Van Zyl said: "I can tell you, when I left there, I just wanted to cry. I don't want to start crying again now...

"When I got to my car, I broke [down]..."

Van Zyl said being asked four times "about my gender, in a room full of people" left her taken aback. "It felt like an interrogation," she said.

'Transpeople often mistreated'

Sibusiso Kheswa, director of Gender Dynamix, an organisation focusing solely on the transgender community, said it had long been lobbying home affairs to correctly implement the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act.

"There are many incidents in which transpeople are mistreated. What [Van Zyl] experienced is not new," Kheswa said. "This stamp is not a requirement."

He said people were given different information from officials on any given day. Kheswa advised transpeople making applications at home affairs branches to document everything so if they needed to follow up or even go to court, they had the necessary paperwork.

He also had two pieces of advice for home affairs: staff must be sent for sensitivity training, especially in how to speak to transpeople. The department should also ensure officials knew the law and implemented it correctly.

Van Zyl said, once she had worked up the energy, she would return to home affairs to try again to have her gender changed on her ID.

"There’s so much difficulty on this journey," she said.

Attempts to contact home affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete for comment were unsuccessful.

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