To celebrate Stonewall 50 and WorldPride in NYC, we gathered a group of remarkable people with their own Stonewall stories to tell. Read them all in our blog, and say hello when you see them at Stonewall.
As an intersex activist, Tatenda Ngwaru strongly believes in speaking out truthfully. “I remember seeing someone use a microphone, and being drawn to it.” She says, “I wanted to be loud, and to speak my truth.” But for much of her life growing up in Zimbabwe, that outspoken drive literally risked her life.
Intersex people are born with ambiguous organs, so sex cannot be determined at birth. It is a relatively rare occurrence, but even more so in Tatenda’s home country. “When it happens, people hide. People feel it is shameful, and that made me have such a tough childhood since I didn’t know how to work to get people to understand me as a person.” The pain and shame of her early years ignited her drive to change the discussion around intersex people, but faced considerable danger.
“The LGBTQ+ community is considered illegal in my country,” Tatenda says. “Even if people want to be out, they can’t be out. So I started reaching out to other people on social media, encouraging them to reach out to me, so we could start a secret group so we could start talking about our challenges.” There were similar gay and lesbian groups flourishing underground and online, but Tatenda’s was the first specifically for intersex people.
As Tatenda built her group, called TRUE IDENTITY, she scoured the Internet for examples of similar groups around the world. “When I started reading about organizations in America, and places like the Stonewall, where the beginning of the movement is, it inspired me and gave me the energy to look into what they were doing and see what I could do in my country.” Learning about others’ struggles pushed Tatenda to work harder on her own group: “There are a lot of communities that are disadvantaged, that are vulnerable, and that are ignored.” She believed the intersex community could work to move forward.
Faced with increasing legal trouble and danger in Zimbabwe, Tatenda moved to New York City to find safety. She thought that the United States would be a better place for an intersex person, but instead, “I faced the same problems in this country. In Zimbabwe I thought America would be a country that already knew what intersex was, but boy, did I get a rude awakening.”
I WANTED TO BE LOUD, AND TO SPEAK MY TRUTH.
Luckily, Tatenda found a new home and fresh inspiration in the local LGBTQ+ community. “I figured out that nothing happens if you stay at home. When I started showing up at events, I started meeting activists from around the globe, I started meeting friends. All of these events were LGBTQ+ events. I was homeless at the time, and I met someone who could give me housing at one of these events.” Tatenda’s friends even teamed up with The Stonewall Inn to throw a fundraiser for her while she wasn’t allowed to work: “It gives you hope. It showed that sometimes if you need help, all you have to do is ask. It is not the easiest thing to do, but when you do, miracles happen.”
Today, Tatenda feels more at home in the US and the LGBTQ+ community, but there is still a lot to be done to move intersex people into the conversation. “the LGBTQ+ community has been very welcoming to me as an intersex woman, but it is still a very quiet topic, even within the LGBTQ+ community, since so many people don’t know what that is. It has fueled me to want to do more, to teach more, to speak more, and claim my seat at the table, event within the LGBTQ+ community.”
Tatenda believes this change is possible. “Everyone within the LGBTQ+ community shows up for one another,” she says. “Reaching out online, in person, they show up. And seeing everyone at Pride, celebrating with their freedom of speech, is very heartwarming to see.”