Kristina Wertz, Director of Policy & Programs

I’m back from an incredible week in Cape Town, South Africa! I was there for a meeting called “Lawyering on the Margins” that was generously hosted by Open Society Foundations. The meeting was a gathering of lawyers from every corner of the globe who are working with marginalized groups. Specifically, those of us who represent LGBT people, sex workers, and people who use drugs were invited to attend. There were about 30 participants sharing successes, challenges, strategies and aspirations for ensuring that those who are on the margins of society have access to justice. I was so honored to attend, especially as an ally to the trans community.

I connected with LGBT activists from Uganda, Ukraine and Macedonia; people working to decriminalize sex work in South Africa, India and Canada, folks working with people who use drugs in Indonesia, Russia and Denmark. It was so inspiring to hear all the creative ways lawyers are serving their communities – from legal clinics in prisons in Kenya to empowering paralegal programs in Indonesia.

I was proud to share Transgender Law Center’s multidisciplinary approach to working toward a world where we are all able to live our authentic lives. Many activists were interested in our successes in removing onerous and outdated restrictions to legal changes of gender.  I was glad to be able to provide some insight to folks working on a case before the European Court of Human Rights challenging the inability of a transgender man in Macedonia to be recognized as his true gender.

We visited the office of Gender Dynamix, a powerful trans group making big changes in South Africa.  South Africa eliminated its surgery requirement for gender changes back in 2003, but the government is not allowing petitions to go through with any regularity.  The folks at Gender Dynamix are working to change that, and they are going to win!

We also visited SWEAT, the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce.  SWEAT is employing community empowerment, policy advocacy, legal support and movement building to put an end to the criminalization and violence faced by sex workers.  I was really impressed with their programming for trans women, lead by trans women. Those folks are making a difference.

There is no way to sum up my experience in Cape Town in a blog post, but I can tell you that it was inspiring, rejuvenating, productive and fun. And, I saw penguins!

Lawyering on the Margins

Related video from Lawyering on the Margins 2011: