On 3 January 2018, the South African transgender community lost one of its most beloved voices when Lara Kruger passed away. The death of the Motsweding FM radio DJ, perhaps the first openly-transgender radio host on a mainstream station on the continent, left behind a loving family, a community of activists with whom she had long worked to shine a light on LGBTI issues, and countless radio listeners in her home-province of the North West.
Lara Kruger’s activism started at a young age when she would vocally defend her right to dress and behave as she felt comfortable to members of her community who didn’t yet understand what it meant to be transgender. Her mother, recalling those events, accepted Lara’s identity from the start and even changed churches, despite being a Church Elder, when the local pastor began preaching homophobic messages to his congregation.
“I am not burying a son, but a daughter,” said Lara’s mother to members of the church and community ahead of the memorial service in Mogwase, near Rustenburg. The memorial, held on 11 January, was live-streamed by the SABC and saw hundreds of friends, family members and activists join Lara’s mother to pay their respects in what served as a time not just for mourning, but celebration of a life lived loudly and with pride.
“Miss Lara Kruger, Honey, you left us when we were supposed to do great things this year,” said Thato B, a friend and fellow activist attending the memorial. “But I won’t be sad, because I know we will carry on and remember everything you did.”
It is now widely known that Lara had long struggled with depression by the time she passed away. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer persons are disproportionately affected by depression, due to the discrimination, bullying and trauma that they may face throughout their lives. For some, the consequences of severe depression can be deadly, yet in activism communities, self-care and mental wellness often don’t get the consideration they need.
Another activist in attendance, MacMillan Ngobeni, noted this when speaking about Lara. “You [as an LGBTI person] face all these things every day, whether it’s bullying or violence or harassment. It affects you. It drains you. You can have someone walking around and acting like everything is great but deep down they’re hurting. I never met the deceased personally, but to my knowledge she was going through a difficult time.”
Iranti has long worked to highlight the importance of mental health and wellness in the work we do. The strain on activists who not only must deal with prejudice as LGBTI persons, but tackle the trauma of the community at large, is often too much to handle alone and it is vital that we stand together and support friends, allies and colleagues not only logistically, but emotionally.
Prior to her passing, Lara wrote on Facebook about the depression she was facing and the hardships she experienced in the workplace. She noted that if she were to pass away, she would want people to wear white at her funeral. Whether or not this meant
Lara knew what was coming can only be guessed, but when the community at large gathered again to lay her to rest on Saturday, 13 January, they showed their true love and respect for this rising star.
The North West Province has seen a spate of violence against lesbian and transgender women in recent months and years, and LGBTI bodies face repression and rejection every day. But at Miss Lara Kruger’s funeral, hundreds wore white out of love for a transgender woman.