Wahira Labelle uses her voice as an artist, storyteller, and activist to draw attention to crucial sociopolitical issues. As a Black trans woman migrant and refugee, Wahira shares her insights into difficult lived experiences to communicate the reality of displacement and the importance of equality.
Wahira Labelle is of Somali descent. Fleeing from the civil war in her home country, the artist grew up in refugee camps. In Somalia, identifying as LGBTQ already attracts the death penalty. Other people in the refugee camps soon found an issue with Wahira’s femininity. She was made fun of even for the way she sat. On top of invalidating her developing identity, they ridiculed and beat her up. Having found her way to California, Wahira is leading the charge in advocating for the dignity and rights of the LGBTQ community and minorities at large.
The complex intersection of race, gender identity, politics, and other social or cultural constructs can be difficult to discuss. Much information and emotion can be lost in translation due to the limitations of language or misunderstood due to cultural differences. Recognizing this challenge and her unique position in shedding light on these issues, Wahira Labelle constantly searched for different ways to tell her story.
Fortunately, Wahira Labelle found art and activism. In addition to speaking five different languages, she has also explored the role of music in one’s journey to healing. Art and music are powerful forms of expression that convey the human experience to a universal audience. Wahira discovered that she could express her pain with a pen, pouring her heart out writing songs. She uses these art forms to share her lived experiences as a refugee who crossed borders and climbed mountains to get to where she is today.
“Create your own tribe” is one of Wahira Labelle’s most famous quotes. The line embodies Wahira’s empowering message that people can come together and choose to form welcoming communities. Despite all that she has already achieved, Wahira focuses on the work that still needs to be done. She continues to maximize the use of her platform to advocate for Black minorities, refugees, and LGBTQ migrants.
Throughout all the pain, suffering, and loss that characterize Wahira’s work, hope remains her central theme. Her primary goal is to be the voice for the voiceless, especially Black refugees. “I want people, my people, to feel validated and that life has not ended when they hear my song. No matter how far it may seem, there’s still hope,” says Wahira Labelle.
Wahira has now lived in the United States for over ten years. She works for a government transport company. The little girl in the refugee camp who was not recognized, ridiculed continuously, and beaten up now shares a message of hope. She assures her community that although there is a long journey ahead, things will get better. Wahira Labelle has been featured on BBC Africa, Blavity News, QueersEthiopia, and many more.
To learn more about Wahira Labelle, please visit her website.