Leigh Davids, a vocal transgender and sex workers’ rights advocate, passed away in the early hours of 27 February 2019. Photo by Gugu Mandla.

It is with great sadness that the Iranti team learnt today of the passing of Leigh Davids, a passionate and important advocate for transgender and sex workers’ rights in South Africa. Working tirelessly for the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa, Leigh was a founding member of SistaazHood, a collective for trans women sex workers, and was its Coordinator until her passing.


Leigh Davids with Iranti’s Advocacy Manager, Joshua Sehoole, at the AQMMN (African Queer Media Makers’ Network) workshop in 2016. Photo by Gugu Mandla.

Leigh worked closely with SWEAT (Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce), Gender DynamiX, GALA (Gay and Lesbian Archive) and countless others, including Iranti, where she participated in our Africa Queer Media Makers’ Network.

She reminded us always of the real lived experiences of poor black trans women in the region; that our fight is not one that can be limited to debates in parliament and academia, run by middle-class activists sheltered from the worst cases of transphobia, homophobia, racism and violence. Our fight is for, and must be by, those like Leigh who lived and worked on the ground, and gave every inch of themselves to improve their communities.

“Leigh will always be remembered for her disruption of symposiums, conferences and other sector meetings all over the world,” says Iranti Board Member, Robert Hamblin, of his friend and comrade. “She would always wait for all the formal language, recommendations and professional grandstanding to be done and would then stand up and speak in a mixture of gangster language, plain language and real-life experience examples. There would be no mincing of words; brutal truths would be exposed and then she would always end her soliloquy off with some encouragement and some kind of faith in those who had power to change things in the world. She never lost hope. The strange thing about her, a person who endured the system in the most brutal ways.”

Leigh touched countless lives and her loss has impacted members of the transgender and sex worker communities across the country, with heartfelt messages pouring in from all corners of South Africa.

Leigh was a fighter, not because she chose to be, but because a violent, discriminatory society forced the role upon her. She shouldered that weight without ever losing her positive demeanor, humour, and fiery spirit, even continuing to work and post on social media after being hospitalised. We can only hope to carry a fraction of that spirit with us, and apply it to our own work.

Thank you, Leigh, from everyone on the Iranti team. We salute you, and send our heartfelt condolences to your friends, families and peers. Your life was a gift to us which we cannot afford to forget. Your spirit lives on in us here at Iranti, as does everything you stood for.

Rest In Power, Leigh Davids.

Source: Robert Hamblin
A fiery speech by Leigh Davids at the Biennial Trans Health Conference, 2017, calling out the ongoing violence and exclusion of poor, black, trans sex workers, even within LGBTI+ movement building. Source: SWEAT