20th November 2020 is Trans Day of Remembrance, an important date the LGBTI community uses to remember and celebrate the lives of transgender people taken from us. Alana, a trans woman and refugee, has written this article to highlight the experiences of trans asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. She has also recorded a video message.
We are living in turbulent times. There is the chaos of the global pandemic, the never-ending ongoing Brexit negotiations, and a constant debate on transgender identity in the UK. It is important to not forget how these issues can affect the lives of individuals, especially those from marginalised communities who tend to be forgotten about. Britain is a more multicultural country than ever before, which has brought great strengths to the nation, and has also incited some controversy. Thousands of people claim asylum in the UK every year, some of which are transgender people escaping dangerous situations in their home countries. New issues are emerging when examining our experiences settling-in into the UK.
The journey to reach the UK as an asylum seeker is challenging- it can even be deathly- but facing the reality of being an asylum system or refugee in the UK is a completely different type of challenge. Transgender asylum seekers face unique and painful obstacles along both paths.
Challenges as a Trans asylum seeker
Trans asylum seekers are often repeatedly misgendered by Home Office officials and receive correspondence addressed to our old (referred to as dead) names. It can be a naive mistake caused by the bureaucracy, which is designed for cis-gendered applicants, but it is still a dehumanising and hurtful experience.
One of the biggest issues I faced when I was claiming asylum was getting access to hormones, medication prescribed for transitioning. I had been transitioning even before I stepped foot in the UK, and it was vital that I kept the process going– that required me to take medications daily. The UK government did not have a policy in place to provide transgender asylum seekers with the basic healthcare we need. As a result, I was forced to discontinue my medical transition, which deeply affected me both physically and mentally. I really mean it when I say I would not wish it on my worst enemy. Accessing appropriate healthcare is extremely difficult, especially as most asylum seekers are housed outside of London, where most gender clinics are located.
Trans asylum seekers are often unsafe in Home Office accommodation as other asylum seekers may have strong views against LGBTI people. It is very scary to not have a safe place to go home to, especially when you are in a totally foreign country. If you do not speak English very well, it feels impossible to know who to trust and how to get help.
Challenges as a Trans refugee
Things can get easier after for trans asylum seekers when we are granted refugee status. After receiving a positive decision on your application, you will then have access to welfare/public funds and can begin to secure independent access to accommodation, education, training, and employment. You might still experience everyday transphobia as you navigate public services in the UK, as frontline staff do not always have experience working with LGBTI people. Living in the UK gives you the opportunity to connect with a very multicultural society. It is important to feel connected to the community to integrate into broader society and build a stable fulfilling life.
I am still facing rife transphobia in the UK, even 2 years after being granted refugee status. It is a long-term issue that will require widespread change. For the past decade, transgender people’s existence and rights are often publicly debated in the UK. There are strong advocates on each side of this debate, with some trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) voices being very prominent. It is bewildering to have one’s life up for discussion and on the news.
The rise of hate crimes against trans people is also very worrying. As a victim of a hate crime myself, it has caused me a lot of anxiety. I experience deep fear when navigating public spaces, especially women-only spaces. How can a trans woman integrate into society when that very society can be unsafe for trans people?
To help trans asylum seekers and refugees in the long term you can support organisations and charities that provide them direct support, such as Micro Rainbow. There are also exciting new emerging grassroots initiatives mobilising to provide specific services to the community, such as We Exist, which provides emergency funds for struggling trans people to afford healthcare. It is also important to make British society more welcoming to trans people in general, a project which many fantastic advocacy organisations are undertaking.
Transgender people in general are a marginalised community. Many of us struggle to make ends meet in a world that is fundamentally not built for us. As a result, many have started crowd-funding pages to help pay for essential transition treatments. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. If you know any transgender asylum seekers or refugees, you can help them by donating to their crowd-funding page if they have one. I think every trans asylum seeker would benefit from having a designated crowd-funding source as a pragmatic way to access medical care.
It is unfortunate that the more intersectional your identities are the more oppressed you will be. Transgender asylum seekers may well be facing the largest of those interconnected challenges. There are many serious issues every asylum seeker faces, but trans asylum seekers in particular are in dire need of help. I hope this article has shed some light on some of the issue’s transgender refugees and asylum seekers face. I have built a fantastic life in the UK, but there is still a lot of work to be done to make all trans asylum seekers and refugees safe.
* This article appears on Migrant Help as well.