Category Archives: Campaigns

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Layla, From My Perspective

Jenny List

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.

Blind Trans Woman Escapes Saudi Arabia

Today a young Saudi trans woman is safe in the asylum system of a European country.  Layla Al Darwish was born with the misfortune not only of being trans in the most repressive country on Earth, but with retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that has made her functionally blind.

After her parents discovered she’d contacted us, her father threatened to kill her. In Saudi, this is not an idle threat. The Saudi state will do nothing against a parent who harms their child. So we had to arrange her escape quickly.

This has been a very dangerous extraction, the most difficult and complex operation we’ve completed to date, spanning from June to December 2022. A half dozen very brave people helped Layla on her way. One of them nearly had loved ones killed doing so, and Layla was pursued by family members while on the road.

Her travels took her through the Republic of Georgia. We are deeply grateful for the assistance of Equality Georgia, who partnered with us in this operation.

Women Attacked in Bundibugyo, Uganda

Bundibugyo, Uganda

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, Dec 14, 2022, the house where five trans women lived together in Bundibugyo Uganda was raided by police. Three of the women managed to flee, but two others were beaten by police and local people, screaming “Are you men or women?”

The two women were arrested and taken to the local police station where they were sexually assaulted and further beaten.

We are assisting a local organization help all five escape to the local organization’s trans shelter in a safer place.

The local organization has arranged to free the two jailed women and provided medical care. We are extracting all five to a safer place.

Work like this requires funds. If you can, please give a small gift to help this keep happening.

When Trans People Are Registered.

One of our passengers has had experience with registries of trans people. In light of the recent decision in Florida registering trans minors, she thought it was important people know her story in her own words:

I’m over 30 in Hungary. Before they banned transition, I had my psychological evaluation in the way, and visited psychologists over my issues. After the ban in 2020, the psychologists told me they can not help me any more, and after a few months, some ministry’s office started to harass me on the phone, pretty much threatening me that if I attempt to transition, they will send me to jail or worse.

I reported such to the police and blocked the number.

Nearing 2021, police officers shown up at my workplace and asked me to come around to the nearby police office. The officers were apologetic and embarrassed, but “we just do what we are told to do”. In the office, some woman from a ministry (not from the police) started shouting at me about how being trans is an evil fad and corrupts children, and I should write an official paper that I am normal, not trans, never will be trans and fill in some data on it. I refused because it seemed like getting data and “I am cisgender, leave me alone”.

Then she shown the papers from my doctor, which they pretty much confiscated from the hospital. “Yes, I had a time when I was unsure, but I am sure now. Leave me alone.”

So as I left, a police officer called me aside and apologized in the name of the Hungarian police force, stating that this is from the ministry and they have to do this, smaller office, so they are doing what they are told to do. I left anyways.

The phone harassment did not stopped and near the end of 2021, officers came around again, but they just shrugged when I told them they got the wrong guy.

Early 2022, Trans Rescue helped me out of Hungary to a safe zone in the EU. They gave me a temporary house until I got on my feet and legally could stay in a country.

The harassing calls did not stopped, the Hungarian officials still tried to threaten me that if I ever return to Hungary with a changed gender, they will hit me “with all the power of the law”.

She, and we, thought it was important to get this out, but for obvious reasons she was reluctant to release it on her own.

Eden House – Month one, and Why

We’re now 3 weeks into Eden House. It’s been a busy time, so we’re having an update.

What we’ve accomplished:

  • Cleaned up
  • Gotten the plumbing mostly repaired
  • Been broken into 3 times, (local thieves, not transphobia as far as we know) and house security has held each time.
  • Improved house security – secured the ladder, installed concertina wire atop the wall in places, replaced many of the locks, and installed motion detector lights
  • Developed strong relationships with our neighbors. Honestly , the theives have been a blessing – they’ve given us a non-controversial roject to cooperate on.
  • purchased basic household furnishings – cooking equipments, fridge, microwave, a plastic table, mattresses, curtains
  • Made more household furnishings – we’ve made 3 sofas and 5 beds. (Tomato crates are amazing!).
  • Bought basic carpentry tools, got past some gender stereotypes about what’s appropriate women’s work, and had basic tool use classes. Everyone caught on, and now is much more self sufficient.
  • built a chicken coop
  • Planted a garden

What Is Eden House, How is a ‘Trans Haven’ different from a ‘hidey hole’ or temp shelter?

A ‘hidey hole’ is a temporary place for a trans person to hide while we get them out. We have these in various places around the world. They’re uncomfortable bare rooms, not a place to live very long.

Some organizations make Queer homeless shelters. A place where a queer person can come and stay safely, but not very comfortably for the long term.

Instead, we’ve chosen to make a more ‘plush’ place. Trans folks can come and stay as long as they like. We help them find productive work within the context of the Haven. Some may choose to stay their entire lives, some may choose to leave soon.

Financially, we expect the place to become self supporting, a communal living space. Folks come and go at a stereotypical ‘hippy commune’, soem staying a long time. We can do much the same.

Why?

Obviously it’s a bigger undertaking than a minimal place with crammed in bunk beds. So why do it?

First, Kenya’s a big country, we regularly get folks asking us for help. Mostly in danger in a small town, they just need a place to go and a bit of travel money. Renting an apartment for each is expensive. In the end, Eden House becomes a free place to send folks.

Second, if folks are housed independent of each other, they’re without mutual support – at Eden House a job training program or remote work system or trauma support is easy to set up. Spread out, it’s not.

Third, Kenya is indeed dangerous – we picked a place with a wall, and it’ll take a lot of guts to attack a house full of people with good security (we’ve already made the house look a bit like a fortress – local thieves have been ‘pentesting’ it for us).

Fourth, institutions (police demanding bribes, local religious leaders stirring hate) have a harder target. We are already a resource for our neighbors (our neighbor benefits from our security arrangements, our other neighbor is a vendor (She supplies our chickens)).

Fifth, this is the start of a long term project– we can expand and form a constantly growing queer community. To do that people need to feel free to stay in or around the project.

To those of you who don’t remember the 80’s, Queer havens like San Francisco’s Castro and New York’s Christopher Street were important organizing centers.

If we have a strong community in one country or one city in East Africa, we can expand out and create change in the entire region. It’s not just Kenya that will change, but all East Africa.

Sixth, Kenya is a place we can get folks from the Middle East or Africa to easily, and those are some of the worst places to be trans now. Eden House makes our other operations much, much easier.

Seventh, Kenya’s a country with an improving record of human rights, largely outside the fascism taking over many countries. It might end up as a base to retreat to.

We’re excited! It’s new times. This article is a follow on to our main post about Eden House.

Eden House Begins!

“Hii nyumba ni kama nyumba ya mungu luna ipa heshima.”

(This house is like a temple, and we respect it)

– Shilla

After months of planning, fund raising, and work, our trans haven in Nakuru, Kenya is a reality. This post is being written in the office of Eden House.

We moved the first passengers in on August 1.

Our awesome volunteer, Simon Ng’ang’a, found us a really special place. It’s a lovely 3 bedroom 3 bath home with enough property for a chicken coop and garden. Its location on the outskirts of town is secure, quiet, and means we can move to the agricultural project vision gradually – renting a nearby field and expanding into it.

All of us in Nakuru have been working hard to turn the house from a rather dilapidated place that hadn’t been lived in for some time to a lovely home. We’ve cleaned a lot, we’ve had plumbers in and figured out the NASA like complexities of the plumbing, done a lot of small repairs, and are moving on.  

We’re currently a bit in the ‘camping in our new apartment’ stage, with mattresses on the floor and a single cheap molded plastic table and chairs. But we’ve set up the kitchen (everyone but me seems to be a wonderful cook), and have daily basics like clothes washing, internet service, fridge, and so on established.

But we’re starting our move towards self sufficiency by building our own furniture.

The back porch currently has a lot of offcut lumber piled up, most of it with the bark removesd. We’re building 5 beds, a sofa, and a trestle type dining table.  In preparation, I taught a basic tool use class (it’s not all one way – I finally got a proper lesson in how to wash clothes in a bucket from Sophia, I’d struggled with this before). 

As much as teaching concrete skills, we’re working hard to get the women who grew up in the city used to the idea of doing for yourself.
Most of the folks in the house had little experience with self sufficiency, but they’re learning fast. In fact, after several ideas of how to build beds, we settled on an idea Arya came up with, based on used tomato boxes. And the idea of learning skills from YouTube is new to them all.

We’re purchasing some basic tools, some chickens, a sewing machine, and some art supplies.  Arya’s interested in starting clothing production, and Sophia’s a talented artist. Shilla brings many practical ‘farm’ talents – she’s going to start raising chickens and lead the project to put in a garden. 

And yes, we have a large garden planted! Shilla took the lead on this project.

We’re doing more than we expected for this early phase of the project. We’re ready to start some skills training, but need equipment. The tools are purchased, but we could use more, and we need to purchase a sewing machine, sewing notions, some fabric, and some art supplies.

Eden House is on a residential lot on the edge of town, down a narrow dirt road. About 50% of the surrounding lots are used for agriculture. Our original plan was a house or apartment, then move into some self-sustaining agricultural project later as we grew. Instead, I think we can just grow the house where we are for some time, perhaps renting a nearby lot for agriculture.

The compound is the former home of a local MP.  Politics can be violent in Kenya. For us, having a politician’s house means the property is very secure – it has a tall stone block wall topped with broken glass and a secure iron gate. All windows have secure steel bars. If (a realistic possibility here) there’s a violent protest, we’re secure.

Matching Funds For Eden House

One of our wonderful supporters (who wants to remain anonymous) has offered up a challenge. For every euro we raise, up to 2000 EU, she’ll match it 1 for 1.  So let’s go, you can donate

Trans Woman Assaulted in Kenya

May 25, Mombasa

Rita, a trans woman in coastal Kenya, was assaulted on May 15 at her restaurant chef job, after the restaurant owner learned she was trans. He and another employee attacked her, probably giving her a concussion and skull fracture.

The police came and arrested Rita, charged her with “impersonation” and “shaming” the restaurant. She was denied medical care, despite the severity of her injuries, and was placed in a cell with men. During the night she fended off a sexual assault.

Trans Rescue provided funds and some local trans women (some of the group starting Eden House) bailed her out. Trans Rescue also provided funds for medical and psychological care.

Anne Ogborn, a Trans Rescue staff member, said, “We’re particularly anxious to get Rita away from this area, since we fear she’ll be blackmailed now.”

As one of the women helping Rita said, “is it wrong to ask for a Job surely why are some people so heartless?”

We’re withholding the name of the restaurant and it’s owner to prevent retaliation against Rita. Rita is an alias.

Follow up. Rita collapsed during a follow up medical appointment and is currently in hospital. Trans Rescue is trying to raise 2000 EU to pay for medical care and to get Rita and the group of trans women she lives with out of the area on an emergency basis.

Eden House – A Trans Haven in Kenya

In a country as large as Kenya, one place can be relatively safe while another is deadly for trans people. We can often save folks simply by getting them to another part of the country, and, often, away from parents.

A local ally rang us up recently with the sad news that there were 8 trans women in terrible conditions in a coastal town. A good-hearted local man was helping them, but he was out of funds and needed help.

They need out, and we’re getting them out. But we need a place to house them, and until we raise funds for it, they’re stuck in dangerous conditions.

Kenya has needed a trans haven for a long time. Now it’s an absolute necessity.

We want to rent a large apartment in Nakuru – a compromise between the most urbanized, accepting area and a reasonable cost of living. We’ll furnish it and set up a self government scheme.

We are working with local partners to provide training programs, mostly trade school type programs. Pastry chef, hairdressing, and similar occupations. These are often the entry to a reasonable standard of living in Kenya.

While Kenya’s record on trans rights is neither abysmal nor great, many Kenyans I’ve spoken with have expressed hope. Kenya’s a relatively new country, it’s economy is booming, and Kenyans see improved human rights in many areas as part of building their new society.

We have larger long term plans. A trans haven in a country that’s accessible to trans people with not so great passports would go a long way towards our goal of getting people to safety. We’ll be bringing in folks from dangerous places.

So, beyond this initial ‘some place safe for some trans women’ Eden House, we want a phase II. Buy land and start a hippy back to the land trans haven. These folks are Africans, they definitely do ‘back to the land’.

This is the implementation of a long term goal. We’ve been talking about establishing a trans haven in Kenya for 8 months. It’s time to do it.

Please help us. This work will cost 4000 € now, and another 4200 € over the next six months.

We believe we can find a corporate sponsor for ongoing costs, but we have to start this from the community.

Here’s our estimated costs

Eden House Costs

1700 EUfurnishings
1000 EUTravel - staff member to Kenya for extraction & setting up
500 EUExtraction costs
400 EUDeposit/first month's rent
400 EUWe sent a local volunteer on a reconnaissance mission
4200 EUFirst 6 months rent, food, utilities, etc.

Rayan – Saudi Arabia

Last year Rayan’s situation seemed hopeless.

As a ‘female’ in his home country of Saudi Arabia, he had little control over his life.

His wealthy, powerful, and criminal father ruled the family with an iron fist.

He’d been threatened with death both by his father and mother, been abused by family members,

subjected to medical mistreatment and conversion therapy, and was in a country whose government would not only not protect him, but would actively help his abusers maintain control.

Rayan had, seemingly, little chance of getting out.

A break came when the family moved to Turkey. He was still trapped in the family compound, but at least we could reach the compound.

Rayan did an incredible job of carefully preparing his escape. He started going to a gym in the compound, and carrying a change of clothing in a backpack. He located his passport in his father’s desk.

On the chosen day, he slipped into his parent’s room and took the passport. He was committed now – if his father discovered he’d taken the passport, he’d be killed. He’d already assembled the small collection of things he’d take with him.

He stepped out, as he always did, to go to the gym.

A TransEmigrate agent appeared in a car. Rayan got into the car and disappeared into the crowded streets of Turkey.

He was away, but still had to get out of Turkey. His family could easily track him down anywhere in the country.

We flew him to a country in North Africa. He stayed there, in hiding, for over a month. Any day his family could ‘redeem their honor’, as they saw it, by killing him. They were actively looking.

We tried to get him into Europe, but he wasn’t allowed to board the plane at the last minute. He seemed stuck.

We arranged a scheme that would make John LeCarre proud. There were fake companies, fake contracts, and even a fake warehouse full of fake produce. Another of our volunteers, in real life a programmer, risked her own freedom.

Rayan is now in Canada.

It was all worth it. Most people in immigration detention in a foreign country would be frightened. Rayan called us with happy news.

One day it was, “I learned to play ping pong today!”

One day it was, “A guard let me try playing his guitar. I want to learn!”

Rayan is now out, settled down, and preparing to get on with his life. He’s taken up boxing, and is building up his new testosterone muscles.

He plays the guitar badly and is fixing up his small apartment.

Some details of events and circumstances have been changed for the safety of Rayan and our agents. Rayan is an alias.. Photo courtesy IBA Boxing

Walim – Egypt

Engineers are born, not made, it seems.

Some people are in love with machines and will tinker endlessly if allowed.

Sadly, in some places people seen as women still aren’t allowed. Often our work at Trans Rescue isn’t about fighting transphobia as much as it is about fighting sexism.

Walim is a 19 year old Egyptian trans man. He loves machinery and electronics and reads about it endlessly. One of our volunteers spends a lot of time teaching him electronics over the internet.

His father is driven crazy by his love of gadgets and beats him regularly for it and for doing ‘boy’ things.

When he cut his hair short, his father beat him savagely.

We desperately need to get him out before he’s killed. We’ve made one attempt recently, but need funds to make a second attempt.

January 4, 2023

We’re happy to announce that Walim is no longer in Egypt. He was extracted in a difficult operation on January 4, 2023. He is in a safe location, and will be moved to a final destination as that becomes possible.

Some details of events and circumstances have been changed for the safety of Walim and our agents. Walim is an alias.