Ricky Nathanson, whose age was not given, was arrested and detained for 48 hours in 2014 and charged with criminal nuisance after she used a women’s toilet at a hotel in Bulawayo, the country’s second-largest city.
She was acquitted by a local magistrate’s court and approached the High Court seeking $2.7 million damages for unlawful arrest, illegal detention, malicious prosecution and emotional distress.
On Thursday she was awarded 400 000 Zimbabwe dollars.
“This has been a long, emotional roller coaster for me,” Nathanson said in a statement jointly issued with a Johannesburg-based legal charity, the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC).
“I have waited almost five years for this moment. I am elated,” she said in the statement.
“This is an incredibly life-changing decision. It is a great moment for Zimbabwe,” said Nathanson, who is now living in America where she works as an activist for a human rights organisation.
Homosexuality and transgender are generally frowned upon in Zimbabwe.
In 2010, former president Robert Mugabe described gays as being “worse than pigs and dogs… (and) those who do it, we will say, they are wayward.”
Nathanson said the ruling “affirms and recognises the fundamental human rights, freedoms and dignity of all its citizens. My wish is for society to be more tolerant and where LGBT persons are not in constant fear of being targeted”.
At the time of her arrest, she was forced to undress in front of five male police officers to “verify her gender”, and underwent “invasive and humiliating medical (and) physical examination,” said SALC.
A local daily quoted High Court judge Francis Bere as saying Nathanson “was not only deprived of her liberty, but was subjected to forced anatomical examination in the most crude and naked manner by adventurous members of the police”.
“As if that was not enough, she was subjected to further invasive examination at two different medical institutions all because of her trans-gender status, something that she did not invite upon herself.”