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Responding To Our Attackers

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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

So there it is, those are the accusations leveled 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 small non-profit organisations for clout, and we’re sure it will peter out over time.

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.

What Happened to TransEmigrate?

Trans Emigrate has been a success over its 20-month lifespan. We have gotten 15-20 people out, and we have learned the basic mechanics of obtaining visas, arranging asylum, handling passengers, and organizing globally.

But it’s been obvious for a while that our origin as a scrappy activist group isn’t consistent with the scope of the work we are doing. Our volunteer staff sometimes has our lives in the hands of other volunteers. Our passengers almost always do.

As any organization grows, it will inevitably evolve and re-invent itself to more closely reflect its continuing mission. As an example, the original impetus for TransEmigrate came through a concern for trans people in the US, UK, and Europe, but in practice our work has taken us to the Middle East and Africa.

So we need to formalize our organization.. When we lay out a path for one of our passengers we must do so with integrity and with the demonstrable ability to follow it up. Our objective is to move trans* people out of dangerous situations, and we must seize upon anything which could improve our efficiency in that endeavor.

We’ve thus decided to reorganize TransEmigrate as a new organization, Trans Rescue. Formally, we’re Stichting Trans Rescue Foundation. We’re a formal Foundation in the Netherlands, the equivalent of a 501c3 in the US. Besides the legal status, we intend to operate like a ‘real’ NGO.

Changing the name lets us reinvent how we do things. Without the name change, we might be tempted to do things as they’ve always been done.

Changing to a formal NGO structure also lets us work with governmental and international organizations, an increasingly important part of our work.

TransEmigrate has been a successful prototype. We’re now ready for the industrial scale version – Trans Rescue.

We want to thank many people. We remain a secret organization, and so we’ll thank our volunteers privately.

Thank all of you who supported TransEmigrate’s work during it’s life. Please support us during this time of transition.

Yours for a brighter future for trans people,

Anne Ogborn

Voorzitter, Trans Rescue