When you’ve got to get out, and fast, you need a bug-out bag containing the essentials for your escape. What do you need to think about when packing yours? Everybody’s bug-out plan will be different to suit their needs, we’re here to set you thinking about what you’ll need to do.
Here in 2023, trans people are under relentless attack, particularly in the USA but in other countries too. You don’t have to be a genius to see where this is going, there are people who want to eliminate us, and given the chance they’ll follow through on that. All your planning for an orderly exit can go up in smoke if events unfold too quickly, so it’s time to also take a look at planning for a quick exit just in case. And for that, I’ll start with a mid-September day at the height of the pandemic.
When It Was My Turn, I Made All The Mistakes
Back in 2020 I had a very unstable domestic situation, eventually culminating in my being made homeless going into the second UK COVID lockdown. When things began to go awry I packed a bug-out bag for what I judged the likely risk would be, and in the event I made such a series of mistakes that they should serve as a lesson to others.
My threat model was that things would take a temporary turn for the worse, and I would have to clear out for the day. The British countryside in September is pleasant enough, so I packed for a day outdoors. I would hang out in a quiet and shady corner, where I was going to have a brew and eat nut bars while I sat with my laptop and did my work. At the end of the day I’d slide back in unnoticed, and that would be that. In the end when it came, it was so unexpected and ferocious that I didn’t have a chance to grab my bug-out bag and I didn’t feel safe going back that evening. All I could do was run for my car, which is why I found myself that afternoon in my local megastore buying essentials. I was fortunate, I had my mobile phone and my handbag, and a friend offered me her sofa to sleep on, but it could have been so different. I avoided sleeping in my car with no food or money by a whisker, and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.
So, where did I go wrong? I packed for too specific a scenario, I didn’t properly anticipate my threat model, and perhaps most importantly, my bug-out bag wasn’t in the right place for me to grab it when I needed it. You can learn from this just as I have, you have a better line on the threat model, you can plan much better what you will do, and you can place what you need, where you will need it.
A Bug-Out Plan Is What You Need
The first thing to say is that a bug-out bag is not there as part of a long-term and well-considered extraction master plan. It’s there for emergencies, when you need to drop everything and run. So part of it is the bag itself, but you should also consider it as a component in a greater bug-out plan. And don’t forget what you might have to leave behind, are there any other arrangements to be made? As an example, if you have a cat, arrange in advance for their welfare with a cis friend in the event you have to run. Or if you won’t be able to return, arrange with your friends what will happen to your possessions.
Our threat model is depressingly obvious in this case, that it’s going to in some form become dangerous to be where you are because you are a trans person. One of the things you’ll have to think about is how long you will be away, which will affect what you decide is essential, and thus what those other arrangements should be.
Having considered the threat model, next up think about your bug-out plan. What are you going to do and where are you going to go? Will you take shelter with a friend, use motels, sleep in your car, or what? Are you heading to the next city, another state or province, or will you leave the country? And how are you going to do it, in your car, by plane, or by some other method? How much is it all going to cost, and have you got enough cash stashed away? Think in terms of the short, medium, and long terms, where will you be tonight and how will you get there, then the next night, followed by the next week, and so on. Once you have a pretty good idea of where you are going to go and how you’re going to do it, come up with an alternative plan for each stage. Things will go wrong along the way, and in those events you’ll thank yourself for coming up with a backup plan.
There’s More To A Bag Than Just A Bag
We know our threat model then, and we’ve made a plan. Are we finally at the bag? Not quite, because a bug-out bag isn’t always a single physical bag. Instead it’s a series of components which might be in the same place but don’t have to be. Loosely, consider what you take with you as things to have on your person, things you might carry away with you, and things to cache somewhere else to pick up once you’re away from immediate danger. Where do these things have to be to be of most use to you?
In my bug-out above I got one thing right, I had my car keys, phone, and payment card with me. These are the things you have on your person, and for instance you might want to add some cash, your passport, or a supply of your medication to them.
Where I went horribly wrong was in the bag I was going to take away with me, In my day pack I had a waterproof groundsheet, camp stove and coffee fixings, my laptop and some trail food, but hadn’t considered I might need the necessities for a night away. Then to compound it all I left it somewhere I couldn’t easily grab it, when I should have put it in my car. You will certainly dodge my mistakes, but think more carefully than I did and try to avoid pitfalls of your own.
If you’ve planned things correctly, now you should be equipped to get away from home with the essentials, and you’d be safely on your way. But stop and think for a moment, are you carrying too much? Can you keep your immediate exit safer by carrying less, and caching some of the more bulky things with a friend somewhere for later retrieval? There are some things here that you definitely shouldn’t have on your person, for example ADHD meds which require certificates to cross international borders, or professional qualifications and diplomas which can be a red flag for immigration staff. Maybe a friend can store and forward a bag of your stuff, or you could even stop by a UPS depot on your way, so you don’t have to weigh yourself down.
If you were hoping for an exhaustive list of what to put in your bug-out bag as part of this article, then we’re sorry to have disappointed you. But with luck we’ve set you thinking about the things you’ll need to consider in case you need to make a quick exit, and made that eventuality a lot safer for you if you ever find yourself in that position. Stay safe everyone.
We’re Trans Rescue, and what we do is help trans people get out of dangerous places around the world. If you’re reading this site, you’ll know that the number of places we’re concerned about is rising, and we don’t think it’s hyperbolae to say that countries such as the USA and the UK are heading towards some very dark places in which trans people will very soon be in mortal danger. These are our countries of birth, it gives us no pleasure to watch this happening in what should be safe and free places.
Fighting Endless Small Battles Is Wearing Us Down
Every week it seems as though there is a new revelation, an American state criminalises trans healthcare or a US politician calls for our elimination, while a British newspaper stokes a new hate campaign with a bogus scare story. Being a trans activist has become an exhausting process of constantly fighting small battles, and while we may win some the effect of all this fighting is taking its toll.
Watching this happen has become a concern of ours, as we see each one of these battles as a small step down the steep slope towards fascism and we think, genocide. The trans community is wearing itself out fighting a losing battle, and has we think, become too exhausted to see the bigger picture until it becomes too late. It’s chillingly simple: nothing will satisfy them but our complete elimination, and our greatest worry is that they will gain the power they need to do that. Fighting all those small battles isn’t going to stop them, neither is hoarding guns and staying to shoot it out, because when they come for us they will do so with the full force of a militarised state apparatus.
How Bad Does It Have To Get To Convince You?
If humanity has learned one thing from the horrors of 1930s Germany, it is that those who get out early will be the survivors of genocide, not those who leave it too late or who stick around to fight a futile rearguard action. We’ve already outlined the information needed for all budgets to start planing an exit from the USA and the UK, but how bluntly must we state the need to get out of those countries before people accept it as a priority?
We don’t want you to be a name or worse still just a number we repeat at future Trans Day of Remembrance ceremonies. Please don’t become one more person we’re trying to save, instead choose to be a survivor able to testify and hold the criminals to account.
We have a story to tell you, and it’s much too big for us to handle alone, so we think you need to know about it. It’s a story about Uganda and east Africa, but it also has troubling implications for the USA and other developed-world countries.
Government-Sanctioned Anti-LGBT Violence Is Back in East Africa
The tl:dr; or perhaps too scary:didn’t read, is that Uganda has tried on previous occasions to pass a draconian law with the death penalty for homosexuality. Last time, the Ugandan courts struck it down, but now it’s being reintroduced. As a result, there is an escalating pogrom-like wave of violence against LGBT, and especially trans, people. We fear this may be the opening of a wider LGBT genocide in Uganda, and later across all of East Africa.
The less visible back story is that this is being encouraged and supported, if not initiated by, the US Christian right, and may be an attempt to move the Overton window to where killing LGBT people is acceptable. The American right wing is well aware that progressive activists in the USA ignore what happens in Africa. Thus they know once a genocide in Africa happens and there is no universal response, it can be exported to more and more places, until finally it comes to America. Thus we should support the Ugandans, because this is a spark that needs to be extinguished before it becomes a fire. And we need to treat it as a warning that genocide is coming to the US.
The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index describes Uganda as a “hybrid regime”1, where widespread election fraud and intimidation of opponents seriously undermine democracy. Uganda has had a single prime minister since 1986, Yoweri Museveni. Religion plays a huge part in Ugandan politics. It’s a largely Christian country (84%), split roughly evenly between Catholics and an evangelical offshoot of the Anglican church. At independence in 1962 the country inherited British colonial laws that made homosexuality illegal. Section 145, 146, and 148 give terms of 5 to 7 years for homosexual acts.
The Trail Leads Back To The US Christian Right
The connection with US politics can be found in an unexpected place, a long running political institution in the US is the annual “National Prayer Breakfast”, organized by the Fellowship Foundation, also known as “The Family”. The event has grown to a week-long series of meetings, meals, and activities. In theory it’s hosted by members of the US Congress, and most Washington DC politicians attend.
In 2008 Jeff Sharlet wrote an expose of the Fellowship Foundation as a public name for “The Family”, a Christian new religious movement deeply committed to the idea of influencing public figures towards Christian right ideals. After Netflix released a documentary series about the Family, questions started being raised about the relationship between the National Prayer Breakfast and the organization. As a result, in 2024 the US Congress will organize the event rather than the Family.
Timeline To Genocide
The National Prayer Breakfast has spawned copies in many places, including Uganda, also organized by the Fellowship Foundation. At the Uganda National Prayer Breakfast in 2008 Uganda MP David Bahati, an ‘associate’ of the Family, floated the idea of a bill enacting the death penalty for those convicted of homosexuality under certain circumstances, and providing long prison sentences for all homosexual acts and for advocating for LGBT rights as an individual or NGO. (If you want to be terrified, watch this 2010 interview with Bahati and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC).
When Bahati then showed this bill to others within the Family they considered it a ‘bridge too far’2, and the death penalty provision was dropped. The bill worked its way through the Ugandan legislative process, attracting considerable attention from foreign governments with funding of LGBT NGOs within Uganda, diplomatic action to threaten sanctions, and economic pressure. Nonetheless it was signed into law on February 24, 2014, but on August 1, of that year the supreme court of Uganda declared it to be invalid on procedural grounds.
In 2015 Ugandan MP Monicah Amoding introduced what became known as the “2019 Sexual Offences Bill”, largely a repeat of the 2014 bill. In 2021 the bill was passed by parliament, but vetoed by Museveni, largely due to concerns about loss of foreign aid.
On February 28 of this year MP Asuman Basalirwa introduced a new bill, the “Anti-Homosexuality bill 2023”. This seems to be part of a much better orchestrated attack. There are currently almost daily calls in the press for anti-homosexuality laws. Even Uganda’s muslim clergy has been enlisted – a rare event in a deeply religiously divided society. On Christmas day the Inter Religious Council (IRCU) Christmas Message, an important event broadcast on the state broadcaster UBC, called for religious leaders to come together to fight homosexuality. On January 26 Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba of the Church of Uganda, also head of the IRCU, called for an attack on LGBT people.
On January 25 Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayabwa, with the support of first lady and minister of education Janet Musevini, introduced a “Get The Gays Out” bill requiring that all male secondary school students obtain an anal examination before the start of term, with those on whom anal papillomas are found to be expelled. This bill was encouraged by a coalition of religious leaders, in turn supported by The Family.
In late January a video started circulating, of a Ugandan trans woman being murdered by two men with knives. They stabbed her over 40 times on camera. We have a copy of this video, but are not releasing it out of basic human decency.
In adjacent Kenya, on February 24, the supreme court declared that the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has the right of association, and declined to dissolve the organization. There have been street demonstrations and calls for anti-homosexuality bills in Kenya in response, and stories of street violence. Our trans haven Eden House has been under a semi-lockdown.
On March 1, the president of nearby Burundi called for Burundians to “fight homosexuality” at the Burundi National Prayer Breakfast.
Two days later on March 3 in Uganda, the new 2023 Anti-homosexuality bill was gazetted. The bill mandates hefty penalties including:
100,000,000 SHS fine (about 2000 USD) for “promoting homosexuality”
10 year prison sentence for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ (if HIV+ or with a minor)
5 year prison sentence for ‘simple homosexuality’
10 year prison sentence for conducting a same-sex marriage
Compensation to the victims
Journalists who disclose the identity of a ‘victim of homosexuality’ fined 5,000,000 SHS (about 100 USD)
7 year prison sentence for running a homosexual brothel
1 year prison sentence for renting to a homosexual
Courts can order protection for a child “likely to engage in homosexuality”
We entered the picture in mid December, helping 5 trans women who were attacked in Bundibugyo. Three of the women were able to flee when their home was attacked by police and locals, but two were arrested. Both were savagely beaten, one’s genitals mutilated, the other beaten on the head so severely she died. Two other women were jailed for several days and severely abused. One woman’s injuries are permanent.
This Is Already Happening
While state violence against LGBT people, especially trans people, is endemic, the community on the ground has reported a sharp increase in the level and frequency of violence. This violence has only been accelerating since December, and many LGBT Ugandans are trying to flee the country, mostly into neighboring Kenya. We have had far more requests for help than we can respond to.
Jeff Sharlet, who has written frequently about The Family, observed in an interview during the Netflix series that The Family likes to work in places “no one is paying attention to”. His example is fighting gay rights in Romania and Uganda. Then, he says, they expand to other places more on international radar. This is an old Christian evangelical strategy, to try to convert people “no one cares about”. They will send missionaries to isolated places around the world, use money, and often colonial power, to inject Christian beliefs and values into such places.
We know Uganda has become and is becoming a much more dangerous place for LGBT people. We, and many in Uganda, are very concerned it may be the opening actions of an LGBT genocide. Many there are looking for avenues of escape. In a larger scope, we worry that these actions may be an attempt to shift the Overton window. And we are concerned that they may hail an attempt at genocide in a western country, probably the United States.
What can we do about it?
First, we can support LGBT Ugandans. They immediately need money and visibility, without repeating the mistakes made when a number of Ugandan NGOs were funded with little oversight after the 2014 bill was introduced. In short: throwing money without oversight at any random Ugandan who claims to have an LGBT organization is counter-productive.
Second, we can give their plight visibility, something that can be readily achieved by the LGBT community and allies in the US or in Europe. Outside every Ugandan embassy, every time the Ugandan government seeks to promote the country, at every Ugandan state visit, and at any entity or event supporting the Ugandan government or economy, there should be demonstrations and publicity about the plight of LGBT people in the country. Only by embarrassing the Ugandan government in public and by associating any aid or other material support for the Ugandan economy with extremely bad publicity, can we ensure the safety of that country’s minorities. These are some of the external tactics that helped with the struggle against South African apartheid.
Third, we can keep a careful watch on the situation, and understand what it portends for the USA and other developed countries. LGBT people and their allies worldwide need to be aware of developed world power structures, especially those of the far right and of Christian fundamentalism, to understand their methods as used in countries like Uganda, and to foresee how those might be imported into countries closer to home.
We will leave you by quoting a recent tweet from Frank Mugisha, Ugandan LGBT Rights worker, “Ugandans have really been radicalized to hate LGBTQ persons. What went wrong?”
Long-time followers of our social media presence will know that we’ve been supporting a pair of Egyptian trans women over the last year. Rudy and Nancy are pseudonyms for a pair who have been on the run from both their families, and the police crackdown on LGBT people. Last October we published some of their audio testimony.
Good News, And Bad News
We have some good news about them, but also some bad news. Last week we had arranged for them to fly out of Egypt to a third country, and while Rudy has made it, Nancy was turned back at the airport. This is one of the risks in our work, that somewhere a random member of staff at an airport won’t like the look of them, and won’t let them on the plane.
Right now we have Rudy safely in the third country, and Nancy still in Egypt. We have flight tickets for both of them in about ten days to reach their final destination, but if we can’t get Nancy to the third country she won’t be on that flight.
Now Nancy Needs Your Help
So this is where you come in. We’re mounting an appeal to get Nancy out of Egypt to the third country, for which we estimate we’ll need about 1200 Euros. If we don’t manage it we lose our existing investment in her flight to safety, she’s stuck in Egypt, and we’ll have to raise even more money for a fresh extraction in future.
So please help us if you can. It’s a fairly short time to raise quite a lot of money, but I know our supporters as a generous bunch who are concerned with getting endangered trans people to safety. Please help us ensure that two people rather than one reach safety in early March.
Header image: Jonathan Payne from Ayr, United Kingdom, CC BY-SA 2.0.
There are many contenders for the most famous newspaper headline of all time, and many of them are triumphs of the journalist’s art, skilfully capturing world events for posterity. A few among them are as much infamous as they are famous, headlines a newspaper might wish to suppress had they not been for all to see on every newsstand in the country. Perhaps the most obvious one in this category for Brits comes unsurprisingly from the Daily Mail, whose owner the 1st Viscount Rothermere exclaimed in print in January 1934: “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!”. His open support for Hitler and for Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists was toned down as events unfolded, but the headline remains to remind the world that the Mail was and is tainted by support of far-right causes.
A Community Mourns
As this is being written, the trans community in the UK stands in mourning for one of our own who was brutally taken from us. Brianna Ghey was a 16-year-old who was stabbed to death in a Cheshire park by two other teenagers in a transphobic attack. Her tragic fate comes against the backdrop of a long-running campaign of institutionalised anti-trans hate speech, and is the inevitable result which many of us have feared for years would come. The knife was wielded by her attackers, but for the trans community there is no doubt. In a Britain without a media and political establishment with us firmly in its sights, Brianna Ghey’s life would have been much safer and she would still be with us.
There’s a phrase you sometimes hear in British public life, “The Great and the Good”, meaning a Who’s-Who of the upper echelons of power and influence. Of course many people would argue that it’s a misnomer as few of them are truly either great or good, but it’s fair to say that among them you’d find senior politicians, journalists, and other prominent figures. It includes newspaper editors such as Katharine Viner of the Guardian, or Ted Verity at the Mail, just two of the many papers that have gone out of their way to platform vile hate speech against the trans community. Or how about consistently transphobic Members of Parliament such as Women and Equalities Committee members and alumni Rosie Duffield, Jackie Doyle-Price, and Mark Jenkinson? Staying in Parliament even the Minister for Women and Equalities Kemi Badenoch, holder of a post which is supposed to provide representation for the trans community, is known to have well-documented transphobic views.
The above paragraph contains merely a snapshot of the institutional capture by transphobes of the British Establishment. There’s hardly a political viewpoint or media outlet not tainted by it or that has not tolerated hate speech within its ranks, there is no player who is blameless when it comes to the targeting of trans people. While Rothermere’s support for fascism in the 1930s put him out on a limb, here in the 2020s there are players on all sides who have unquestioningly given a platform for hate speech against our community. As far as trans people are concerned they all have Brianna Ghey’s blood on their hands, and our worry is that before the transphobia is rooted out for good there will be many more like her.
What Did YOU Do When They Came After Trans People?
All those people mentioned as the Great and the Good, as well as all those too numerous to list whose views align with theirs, undoubtedly have a high opinion of themselves. They no doubt see themselves as successful people at the peak of their careers, and they imagine that they are laying down for themselves a legacy. Perhaps there will be a portrait of the great editor on the wall in the newspaper boardroom, or for the MPs even a Prime Ministerial portrait gracing the staircase at Number Ten. But how is it really going to go for them, in a few decades time after the current explosion of hate has been played to its bloody conclusion and when the sinister ideology behind the transphobia has been exposed for what it is? It’s unlikely that many people will discuss the 1st Viscount Rothermere in the 2020s without his writing in support of fascists being front and centre, and similarly it’s likely that for these people their active participation in an environment which led to the deaths of trans people will be the first topic in their legacy. It’s pretty obvious that some of them want the elimination of trans people, but do they really think they’ll get away with a spotless legacy? Perhaps some of them need to consider that.
In the 1930s the German trans people who were murdered after the raids and famous book burnings at Berlin’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft had nobody to speak for and remember them. Ninety years later that is no longer the case, and whatever happens as the far right pursue their campaigns against trans people in the UK or the USA, there is a worldwide community who will ensure that those who enabled them can not fade away and pretend they weren’t really part of it. Trans people won’t go away, they will keep the receipts, and you can depend on it, they will ensure eventual justice for any victims. A few of the would-be Rothermeres should think on that.
Last year we published a piece here entitled “The USA is sliding into fascism. How to get out”. Behind the sensational title lay the worrying truth that we believe that the USA is heading towards a very dark place indeed, and that we would thus urge all American trans people to either get out or make a plan for getting out. But the USA isn’t our only country of concern that has embarked on a path away from being a safe place for trans people.
Next on our list is the United Kingdom, a country which has over the last decade witnessed an explosion of institutionalised transphobic hate speech from within the media and in high-level politics coupled with a Conservative government that has swung progressively towards the far right. We have seen attacks on trans healthcare and particularly that for trans youth, worrying noises around the idea of bathroom bills, and most recently as this is being written the news that the London government will suppress Scottish gender recognition reform and place trans female prisoners in male prisons. Their continued erosion of human rights legislation as well as projected withdrawal from the European Court of Human Rights is of particular concern, and given that the transphobes have also infiltrated the opposition parties we expect to still be concerned for the situation of British trans people following the next general election.
Is It Time To Get Out, Or Just To Plan?
Given that the events outlined in the previous paragraph paint such a bleak picture for British democracy, it might seem as though it would be imperative for trans people to leave. For all that though, we’re not quite at the point of advising a quick flight and we are not providing financial support to help British people. If there’s a silver lining in the cloud it’s that on-the-ground safety has not yet reached a crisis point, and despite a worrying increase in reported anti-LGBT hate crime the UK is still largely a safe place in which to be trans when compared to the countries in which we do most of our work. British TV news channels may unquestioningly give a platform to TERFs campaigning for us to be excluded from the Equality Act, but they do not approach the excesses of their American counterparts in platforming armed far-right militias and calling for our lynching.
British passport holders will never be refused access to an airliner merely because of their nationality, as would for example a citizen from a country associated with refugees in the minds of the authorities. Thus we do not immediately anticipate a situation in which the act of leaving would become impossible, as it is for a Syrian or a Yemeni. So for now it’s better to have somewhere to live and some means of income in the UK than it is to be penniless and homeless in another country.
Based on what we’ve said in the last two paragraphs then, we’d advise any UK person considering leaving to plan ahead and do their homework rather than booking a ticket and running without considering what happens next. Start at the very beginning and assess the threat level at which a move would become necessary, and use the intervening time to plan an exit with less need for huge resources. There’s the old analogy that a frog in water that is heated gently enough will not notice the temperature rise and jump out, instead boiling to death. Assessing the threat level means being aware enough to jump out of the water before it becomes too hot, and not being the boiling frog.
Putting The Wheels In Motion
Perhaps the easiest way to start your plan is to talk to the people around you about your need to get out. Your partner or family for example should be prepared for your plans, and understand their necessity. If it reaches a point at which you have to make the move then by doing this early you will have already ensured that those around you do not become impediments. Remember, the cis people around you will not be the ones under threat.
The next most easy piece of preparation is to ensure that you have the appropriate documentation. A passport is the obvious one, as is a COVID vaccine certification. Make sure you renew your British passport.
Further to that, look at your family tree. Do you have grandparents from another safe country, and can you apply for that passport? If so you’ve won the jackpot, because there’s your way out.
With those easy steps out of the way, it’s evident that whatever path you take will require some financing as well as careful planning. The good news here is two-fold: not all paths are as unaffordable as you think they are, and for now you have the luxury of time in which to start planning the monetary side as well as the details of your move. Saving money is hard, especially on a low income, but if you can find any way to do so, put it into action.
Then, and perhaps most importantly, you should think about what happens once you have left the UK. How are you going to live, how are you going to support yourself? Are your skills transportable, would you be able to get a job somewhere else? Great news if you’re an in-demand software developer, but not necessarily cause for despair if you’re unsure how you’d manage this. You have the luxury of some time, use it to learn what you can. Consider everything, from something you can sell on Fiverr upwards, and try to develop it into something while you’re still in the UK. If nothing else, improving your employability works in the UK too.
Now you have no ties, you’ve got a financial plan, and you’re busy honing a skill. You’re ready to decide on where you’re going. At this point, we have two pieces of advice. Be realistic, and be prepared to discard your preconceptions.
Why “Be realistic”? The trans rumour mill is a great source of disinformation and half-truths, so it’s very easy to fall into unrealistic beliefs as to what might work. Probably the example we hear most often is that a Brit would be able to claim asylum in another country, something which sadly is not the case. Perhaps it has its roots in racist British popular media coverage of asylum seekers, in which it is portrayed as an easy process which any ne’er-do-well from another country can just turn up and receive their free benefits. In fact, the asylum system exists for the aid of people in far more desperate situations than that of British trans people, and destination countries are without exception very picky about who they will grant it to. There are mutual safety treaties between the UK and the countries you are probably thinking about, so for example if you were to turn up in an EU country and try to claim asylum your claim would be dismissed simply because there is a defined presumption that the UK is a safe place. Much as we would like it to be different, UK trans people don’t have any special status, so trying an asylum claim would certainly result in your swift return. Worse, it could even endanger future claims when matters are worse for UK trans people, by establishing a legal precedent. So be realistic, don’t try edge cases which will certainly fail.
Next, we said “Be prepared to discard your preconceptions”. This is something we encounter on a daily basis from people in far worse situations than you are in. As an example we had a passenger in a troubled Middle Eastern country who was hiding from the police as a trans person and would have certainly been killed if arrested. We had the ability to get them to our safe house in Kenya but there was next-to-no chance that their passport would be accepted on a flight to Europe. They refused point-blank to go to Kenya, citing beliefs about African countries which we can only describe as rooted in racism. The reality of a Kenya in which it’s possible for a group of trans people to live in safety was too far a leap for their preconceptions, and they could not go there. The point for you to take on board here is that we all have preconceptions about other parts of the world, and sometimes they’re based on half-truths or outright falsehood. When considering destinations you’ll all have a list of places you’ll consider “safe”, but be prepared to consider the unexpected. For example, was Argentina on your list? Look up the legal status of trans people in that country, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Where Can You Go?
By now, we think you should have some idea of the steps you should take as you consider a move. You’ll know that it’s possible, you’ll have some ideas of how you’ll go forward, and you’re prepared to consider the wider world on its merits. It’s now time to talk about the question we’re usually asked first. Where can you go?
For someone looking at leaving the UK it might be odd to start instead by talking about not getting out, but moving within the country. But since it’s the easiest option of all it’s worth talking about. At this point you have to pull out your crystal ball and make a bet with yourself about what constitutional changes are likely to happen to the country in the aftermath of a very rocky Brexit road. We’re a country of constituent nations, and only a fool wouldn’t recognise that there’s a pretty good chance we’ll be a country of fewer constituent nations before too long. It’s ironic that the constitutional crisis which might end the Union brewing as this is being written has the issue of trans rights at its centre, but it should serve to remind any non-Scottish UK trans people that maybe life north of the border in an independent Scotland could offer a safe future.
Would Wales follow a Scottish lead? Almost certainly, but we’d expect a lot more foot-dragging from London so not in the same time frame. Meanwhile Northern Ireland is politically as delicate as ever, but a place with an easily crossable border to the Republic of Ireland and an inexorable demographic change in progress from Protestant to Catholic. Of the options we’d go for Scotland, but maybe we’ve given you something to think about.
Having exhausted the UK, nearest to us are the EU countries. We may no longer have the freedom of movement we had before Brexit, but we’re still not without possibilities. Of these, top of the list is our closest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland.The status of Northern Ireland post-Brexit may be a roaring trashfire, but the Common Travel Area provisions that predate the EU remain in place allowing citizens of either country to live and work in the other. This makes the Republic of Ireland the easiest destination country for British trans people in terms of immigration, but as with every destination, there’s a catch. Ireland is a lovely place with a good legal status for trans people, but it has many of the same social problems as the UK including astronomical housing costs. If you’re crossing the Irish Sea, make especially sure you have meaningful plans to cover your work and income. Also, for the love of God, read up on the past hundred years of Anglo-Irish history.
Beyond the British Isles, it makes more sense to talk about types of visa and what you should do than it does to list specific countries. Returning to the paragraph about preconceptions, it’s not for us to dictate which countries are safe or not, because while it’s pretty easy to name the least safe countries it isn’t for us to impose any of those preconceptions on you. Look for an accepting cultural and legal environment as you make your list. So back to visas, and here there are plenty of choices. They all require different levels of sacrifice, but among them are options for all levels. We’ll try to list a few below, but this is by no means exhaustive and you will only find what you want by combing the immigration websites of the countries in question.
First up: the employment visa. Not just for high-flyers headhunted by multinationals or even for those lucky enough to be able to land an overseas employer prepared to do the visa legwork, there are still countries offering work visas for mere mortals. Look for skilled worker visas programmes where they are seeking particular specialties, look for industry-sector-based programmes, and look for programmes aimed at particular geographical areas. Just as one example, Canada has visa programmes for people prepared to work in its northern and Atlantic provinces. Getting a work visa will take a lot of research and effort, but once obtained it can be a route to permanent residence and even citizenship.
Then there is a whole category of entrepreneur, freelancer, and digital nomad visas. Most countries have these in some form or another, and while costs vary widely there are still some sweet spots. Leaving aside the citizenship-by-investment programmes which are only for the wealthy, there are often small business schemes which allow a proprietor of a business based in the country to live in the country and run the business. They inevitably require a certain level of cash to be held in the business to remain valid, but it’s often not an unattainable sum. The business itself can even often be a consulting operation, allowing the owner to do a fairly conventional job for which they are employed as a business rather than as a person.
If a business isn’t quite for you but you have a transportable skill, then a digital nomad visa may be for you. These are designed for people who earn money outside the country with a job they can do anywhere with an internet connection, the idea being that a country will attract a group of earners and taxpayers with minimal investment. They are usually fairly short term in the first instance as many people working this way prefer to hop from country to country, but there are usually schemes to extend them or convert them to residency.
These are by no means the only visas on offer, if you spend a while researching you’ll find a load of others for surprising reasons. But what this section should do is remind you that there are plenty of possibilities to be found, and if you’re prepared to do the research and make an effort it doesn’t have to cost the earth, either. Break out Duolingo, and start learning the language!
Our passengers usually travel alone, faceless beings in the global air transit system. That anonymity is their shield, because they warrant only brief inspection among the crowds hurrying for their flights. As a blind passenger Layla wasn’t so lucky, as at each step her accessibility needs had to be met. Her itinerary touched the UK, and so I met her at Stansted, tired but happy to be safe. We had a few days with a volunteer, so we took a trip to London walking round some of the sights.
She would leave from Gatwick, but here fate intervened. Sometimes the system favours us, but this time the airline didn’t like her visa and wouldn’t let her fly. That’s the reality of traveling on non-Western passports, something EU, UK, or US passport holders never see.
We were stranded in the early hours of the morning with an urgent need to think on our feet, reschedule flights, and find somewhere affordable and safe for a fortnight’s unscheduled stopover. We found a holiday cottage in a remote part of Great Britain’s west coast, extremely cheap at the start of November. The weather was wild but the cottage was comfortable, and it was nice to get to know her. She has a natural talent for languages that leaves my slow learning in the dust.
Her final flight left Manchester, again in the dark. Another motel at a motorway services gave us a few hours sleep, then she breezed through check-in with no worries at the colour of her passport. I was soon wishing her a safe journey before driving home into the night. Over my coffee at a stop in the Midlands the message came, that she was safe. She’s going to live a successful life as a confident young woman in a supportive environment.
It’s been a very stressful few weeks for us at Trans Rescue, as alongside our normal work with our passengers we’ve had to contend with a concerted attack from some vicious online trolls. It started when someone took offence at being blocked by our Twitter maintainer, and escalated into a bizarre and disturbing array of allegations against our organisation and its directors that were they true would be an existential threat. Closer to home we’ve received credible reports of concerted attempts to report us to the local authorities where we are based, moving the whole episode from the merely annoying into the distinctly concerning. We can and have refuted and debunked the allegations, but since that simply generates a fresh set we’ve taken the sensible course of non-engagement. We don’t talk to people who have demonstrated themselves to be bad actors, that’s it. Perhaps it’s time to look at this from another perspective when attempting to make sense of it all, to examine the motives and costs for each party.
It’s All About Motives And Costs
For us, the cost of all this could be existential. It represents a threat to our fundraising, our ability to support our passengers, and their personal safety, as well as to our reputations, both personal and as an organization. Our motive is to clear our names and defend our work. Our desired outcome is for the allegations to be proved wrong and the attack go away so that our stress capacity can be used on our mission.
But what about the people behind all this? We think that while their behaviour has been just as threatening, they aren’t in it for the same reasons as more traditional trolls from sites such as 4chan or Kiwifarms. It may have started as a fit of pique at being blocked, but for them it’s moved on into something of an obsessive quest for an imagined truth in which they have more in common with a conspiracy theorist. People who have convinced themselves that the Moon landing was faked will willfully ignore all the compelling evidence to the contrary, and so it is for them. Their motive is to be seen as the Seekers of Truth who demolished the Big Lie, and like the Moon landing theorists they simply dismiss anything which doesn’t fit with their pre-ordained conclusion. Their desired outcome is our complete destruction and their rightful recognition as crusaders for justice, without any room for retreat.
If that’s their motive, how about the costs? In this case the costs are just as high for them as they are for us. The loss of face in coming to terms with having tried to bring down a small non-profit working with in-danger trans people in a developing country using fake evidence fed to them by a scamming chaser would be immense. It would destroy their personal reputations, with the fallout being visible for anyone prepared to search the Internet for years to come. These are people who style themselves as transgender activists, indeed in another world we might be working with them rather than regarding them as toxic, so any “are we the baddies?” moment of realisation for them is too painful to contemplate.
Finding A Way Forward Through Independent Scrutiny
In reconciling these two positions, it’s difficult to see a way out without the unthinkable happening for one party. Either we are forced to shut down, or they end up with so much loss of face as to erode their credibility for good. If there’s to be a way forward then, it has to involve a lessening of one of those costs. We aren’t going to stop what we do, so the cost has to be reduced for them instead. Doing that is easy to say, but given the obsessive nature of their continued campaign it’s difficult to see how they might be talked down.
As we have tried resolving this we have continued to be open about what we do and to keep on with our work. We continue to refuse to engage with the trolls no matter how much they demand it, so for example we haven’t rushed to show pictures of the Eden House chicken coop that they’ve been obsessing about. For those interested in seeing our work for real we’ve put the word out to professional independent journalists, and will be the subject of their writing in due course. They will write what they find, and we trust that they will find us to be exactly as we say we are. The true spotlight of scrutiny comes from impartial professionals rather than obsessive conspiracy theorist trolls. If you have been watching this saga then we urge you to read what they have to say rather than rely on the trolls, or indeed even on us.
It’s an unfortunate side effect of running a trans organisation, that sometimes you will attract the wrong kind of attention. It’s happened to us, we’ve been the subject of a sustained online harassment campaign for clout from somebody within the trans community who became upset with us when we blocked her on Twitter.
As you might expect, to be at the centre of such an attack has inflicted damage on our organisation. It has cost us a huge amount of time and stress, it has had an impact on our fundraising, and it has inflicted reputational damage both immediate and lingering. This will affect our relationship with corporate donors in particular, which will have an immediate effect on our passengers. Further to that it’s damaged our relations with other trans activists and groups, something which is particularly important for a small non-profit..
Finally and most importantly, it has endangered the lives of our passengers and our volunteers. The obsessive looking for so-called “facts” about us has come uncomfortably close to people in danger who operate in dangerous parts of the world, and who may be on the run from hostile family members or state actors. To the people mounting the attacks it’s a witch-hunt for the lolz and a bit of online clout, for the people on the ground it truly is a matter of life and death. People will die violently if this continues, it’s as simple as that.
Thus it’s been really unpleasant and mentally exhausting for us to deal with, but we have to address it somehow because to let it slide is to let it stand. So here we are, let’s go through some of the points one by one. Be warned, some of them stretch credibility.
You blocked someone on Twitter for posting about racism.
We’re a trauma aware organisation, and we have all been through very difficult experiences that have left us traumatised. If someone is consistently retweeting triggery stuff, it is not unreasonable to block them. Someone blocked you on the Internet, get over it.
You’re grifters, taking money and using it for yourselves
We have published interim accounts and we will be submitting all our yearly accounts as required by Dutch law. It should be clear from those that we are spending any money we receive wisely and in accordance with our aim. Meanwhile we’re as we put it “in our ramen phase”, putting a lot of time into getting Trans Rescue off the ground that we could be spending working, and thus living pretty frugally.
But you moved a cis person! That’s not in accordance with your aim!
As part of our incorporation we defined our aim as moving trans and other people. This was because we’re aware that sometimes we’ll move a loved one who is cis. We currently have passengers in our system who fit that description. Our director moved a cis person with her own money, before Trans Rescue was even incorporated. His name is Maeen Aldahbali, and he’s a Yemeni human rights defender on the run from the factions because he campaigned against child soldier recruitment. If you have a problem with our director helping him, then we suggest you take a long and hard look at your priorities.
You say you have a trans haven in Kenya, but it’s all a lie
Our trans haven in Kenya is called Eden House. The name was chosen by our first passengers who moved in, all of them Kenyans. We hope that the many pictures we and they who live there have posted about it should be enough to prove its existence. We will not reveal where it is in Kenya, to protect its security.
We’ve found some Kenyans who say you’re bad
Earlier on in our work in Kenya we had a Kenyan volunteer working for us, a cis man. He became our agent there for a while, before revealing himself to be a chaser, sexually propositioning one of our passengers, and scamming us. Since then he’s waged a low level harassment campaign against us. We think you’ve found him (or more likely he’s found you), and you’re talking to a bunch of his sockpuppets. He’s done it before.
The brickwork or some other aspect of Eden House doesn’t look very Kenyan to us
Don’t be stupid. You’ll be saying that all Kenyan buildings should be mud huts next.
You spent five grand on the Eden House chicken coop
Don’t be stupid. Setting up a trans haven from scratch, for a group of passengers who have absolutely nothing, costs money. We’ve had to equip an empty house with the normal things required for up to eight people to live with dignity, and we’ve had to ensure that it has proper security. Why yes, that also included setting up a chicken coop, which for some reason you’ve become obsessed with. It’s not a five grand chicken coop though, we’re not British Conservative MPs.
Your passengers in Kenya are fake
That’s right, dismiss the existence and credibility of marginalised people of colour in a developing country. Wow, such activism!
The Eden House manager is a scammer
See the paragraph above: “We’ve found some Kenyans who say you’re bad”. Did this accusation come from the source we mentioned there? Attacking the Trans Rescue directors is unpleasant enough, but attacking our manager, one of our Kenyan passengers who has come through some very bad experiences and who we are employing as the capable and efficient manager she is, is extremely shitty behaviour.
You’re forcing trans people of colour to work for you!
Don’t be stupid. Eden House is a rented property that had been empty for a long time when we moved in. Our director worked with the first residents to make their home comfortable, just as anyone would when they move into a new house.
But you’re making them work for you to stay in the house!
Eden House is a trans haven in which we are trying to establish a sustainable communal living space. Its residents are people who have been thrown to the edges of society because they are trans, are you seriously suggesting that it’s wrong for them to have jobs or small businesses of their own or to participate equally in a commune? The only person working for us at Eden House is our manager, she’s a Kenyan lady who’s been one of our passengers, and we have made certain that we pay her a proper wage. Imagining that all Africans should be charity dependent is simply racist.
Kenya is a dangerous country!
These attacks follow a colonial-era and racist view of Africa that still holds sway in the developed world; namely that Africa is a continent of hell-hole countries in which nobody is safe. The reality is very different indeed. While it remains sadly true that some African countries may be experiencing instability and some may be less safe than others, the continent is home to a great many countries that are going places. One of them is Kenya, a democratic country with a vibrant economy and a rule of law.
Kenya is dangerous for trans people, they have anti-LGBT laws on their books!
It is a valid criticism to level at Kenya, that it has anti-LGBT laws on its books, and that there are places in Kenya where it is dangerous to be trans. Our Kenyan passengers know this, they come from those places. So let us address this in terms accessible to people from the developed world.
If we were to describe a large country with anti-LGBT laws on its books in which it is safer to be trans in some parts than others, then most of you would recognise pretty quickly that we are talking about the USA. We think it’s safe to say that a trans person would be safer in New York than they would be in rural Oklahoma, don’t you agree? So if we said that we would move an in-danger trans person from Oklahoma to New York, we don’t think that anyone would raise any objections. Thus moving back to Kenya, it’s a large country with anti-LGBT laws on its books, and in regions such as the north and along the coast it can be extremely dangerous to be trans. But just as with the USA, there are plenty of places in the rest of the country where trans people are safer, and just as with the USA, it makes sense to move them to one of those places if we can.
You want to move everyone to Kenya
We operate a trans haven in Kenya. Unsurprisingly, it is full of Kenyans. We are not expecting Americans to move to Kenya, how would it possibly be appropriate to move them to a culture they know almost nothing about and in which there is no community to receive them?
The international air transport system is hugely racist, meaning that people from places like Kenya can be difficult to get visas for and difficult to get on a plane when they have a visa. Should we not try to help them because we can’t get them on a plane out of Kenya? Of course not! So we’ve set up our first trans haven somewhere they can get to, in Kenya. It’s likely that Eden House will at times play host to non-Kenyans for the same reasons as it hosts Kenyans, that we can’t get them on a flight to another country safer than where they are. Would you expect us to turn a Ugandan away? We hope not.
You’re white supremacists because you want to move American trans people of colour to Kenya
No we’re not, don’t be stupid. Throwing around accusations of racism as a tactic to smear people you don’t like is shitty behaviour, stop it.
You suggested Germany as a destination. This makes you Nazis
How to say you’ve never been to Germany without saying you’ve never been to Germany. It’s not 1937 any more, don’t be stupid.
You’re trying to work with the Canadian government to move people into towns with no jobs
Wow. This one shows how far over the edge you’ve descended into fantasy. We wish we could work with governments, it would make our job much easier. But as you might expect, they’re not great fans of people who help asylum seekers get into their countries.
For the record, we don’t work in Canada. We never have. We mentioned it in our piece on how to get out of the USA as it slides into fascism, because it will be the easiest destination for Americans to run to should the far-right succeed in their coup. Given the choice between running to Canada or being gunned down by some fascist militia, we think most people would take Canada.
That you’ve tried to turn our advice for such an emergency into an opportunity to smear us shows how desperate you are to take us down, and what kind of people you are.
But we’ve done our research!
We’re sure you have, but we’d like to respectfully suggest that you’re not very good researchers. Read the Wikipedia entry on confirmation bias. Better still, just stop it. And no, we wont engage with you, you’ve established yourself as the bad actors in all this. This has become personal for you, and at each stage when you come up with another implausible conspiracy theory and we debunk it, you get ever more desperate and come up with more. The reality that you’re the kind of people who get off on trying to take out a non-profit working to help trans people in developing countries doesn’t put you in a good light. When are you going to have your “Are we the baddies” moment?
We’re compiling a report of all your wrongdoings, then you’ll be sorry!
Good luck with that. It’ll contain a load of outright lies, some half-truths twisted from things you’ve read on this website, and your star witnesses will be the guy who scammed us and a load of his online sockpuppets.
So there it is.
Those are the accusations levelled against us and there’s the truth behind them, so make up your own mind. This all began as a personal gripe from one person with a history of attacking for clout, and we’re sure it will peter out over time.