Now Reading
Trans people are preparing to flee UK after government threatens new bathroom law

Trans people are preparing to flee UK after government threatens new bathroom law

  • GSN speaks exclusively to trans women who feel they are no longer safe in Britain and may need asylum.
Sparkle trans festival in Manchester, England.

Trans women are planning to leave the UK because they feel it is no longer safe or sensible for them to remain.

GSN has spoken to a number of women who are making serious plans to leave the country. Moreover, the trans people we have spoken to have friends and know others on social media who are also considering fleeing Britain.

One trans community leader said people are ‘absolutely terrified’ and feel they have no choice but to leave.

Some are even saying they will seek asylum if they don’t already have citizenship rights in another country.

It comes after the UK’s new Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss launched an unprecedented attack on trans rights

In April, Truss indicated the government may reduce trans people’s freedom to use single-sex spaces. She also implied they would prevent trans youth getting the right medical care.

The trans community now fears this means a ‘bathroom bill’ preventing them from using the right toilets may be coming.

Without such a basic right, they argue that trans people will no longer be able to do basic day-to-day things like shopping and socialising.

‘I no longer feel safe’

Writer and GSN contributor Jane Fae is one of those thinking of leaving Britain.

She said: ‘As a trans person I no longer feel safe. And the reason I don’t feel safe is not the random on-street stuff.

‘There has always been an undertone of violence directed at me and trans people generally.

‘But at least there has been a sense that the government understood and was happy to go along with broadly accepted rights that have been won in this country and that are accepted elsewhere. Now I’ve lost faith the government will defend us.’

She has started to plan a move, so she is not ‘caught on the hop’. In particular, she is looking at whether she’d need asylum seeker status to live in New Zealand.

But when she started to ask around, she found a surprising number of others were also considering leaving.

Fae added: ‘It has gone beyond just talk, there are people making actual plans.

‘Everyone in the LGBT+ community lives with a little extra risk but you just get used to it. But this is a whole new level of risk. This is the possibility that the government in this country may no longer support us.’

‘Permanent lockdown’ for trans people

Many of those GSN spoke to said steadily increasing transphobia in Britain made them feel less safe.

However, the comments by Truss have triggered them to make serious plans to leave.

One trans woman who works as an academic said she is seeking employment abroad. And as soon as the embassy re-opens, she will apply for a Maltese passport. 

The woman, who didn’t want to be named, told GSN:

‘In effect what Liz Truss is planning is extending lockdown for trans people. Everybody hates lockdown, not being able to go out and socialise. What Liz Truss is planning is indefinite lockdown for trans people. 

‘One of the reasons I live in London is I like to go out and socialise in pubs and clubs and restaurants. But if I can’t go out because I can’t use the loo, there’s not much point in staying here. It makes our lives unlivable.’

The academic also warned that Truss’ plans, if they came into force, would also ‘increase violence against trans people, trans women in particular’.

She added: ‘There has already been a trans woman who has been able to obtain trans status in New Zealand because of the transphobia here. I think we would see actual British refugees abroad.’

‘Brexit brought about a lot of intolerance’

Several of the people GSN spoke to didn’t want their names used. In some cases that was because they are seriously considering leaving and didn’t want their current employers to know. But for others it was because they feared for their safety.

One of those, a long term trans campaigner, now says she has four locks on her door. She said transphobes are physically stalking campaigners.

She is considering moving to Portugal but knows of people who have fled to New Zealand and to Switzerland and others who are making plans.

Alongside a transphobic press, she became disillusioned in Britain after the Brexit referendum. Moreover, she says ‘Brexit brought about a lot of intolerance’.

However, Liz Truss ‘bringing in toilet laws’ is also a factor.

Before coronavirus struck, she visited Portugal to look at properties. She will be returning as soon as travel restrictions allow.

‘I bought a stab vest’

Another trans woman, Caz Hatten, told GSN she fears for her safety. She is tying up loose ends before hoping to move to Canada.

She said: ‘I can’t take any more. I was attacked by a cis woman last year and I’ve been been harassed. Now Liz Truss is so hostile, I know what is coming next. I know it’s going to escalate.

‘If I can get out, I feel like I’m letting everyone else down. In particular, I feel like I’m letting trans kids down by leaving the country. But otherwise I just fear I’m going to get killed or something.’

Meanwhile her new worry is whether she will be able to gain asylum.

Pride organizer and homelessness volunteer Claire Green has also experienced violence. She speculated things got worse after the Brexit referendum which emboldened people to be more hateful and racist.

She told GSN: ‘I’m a six foot three trans person so I am quite a visible target for verbal and physical abuse.

‘People try to trip you up or give you a shove. I’ve had rocks thrown at me and been punched. Three times in the last year, someone has threatened me with a knife. It got so bad that I bought a stab vest but I still don’t feel safe.’

The 54 year old is thinking of moving next year. Partly she wants a fresh start but she adds: ‘I don’t want to have to face violence and threats as often as I do.’

‘Most UK people support trans rights’

Meanwhile trans campaigner Rin Withers, who runs several online LGBT+ communities, has slightly different reasons for leaving. She doesn’t particularly fear the Truss’ proposed legislation. But she does feel the UK doesn’t represent her values any more.

She is so serious about moving that she’s been learning Norwegian and applying for jobs in Scandinavia. Withers says her trans partner is also considering a move.

She told GSN: ‘I firmly believe a majority of people support trans rights in the UK. But there is a more vocal minority who try to demean me and make me feel less of a person.

‘It feels there is always a target on my back because of the person I am. It has just worn me down.

‘I am really fortunate I could move abroad with three months notice. There are many, many trans people who wished they had some way to not feel trapped.’

‘People are really scared’

Trans writer Gemma Stone is one of those who feels she can’t leave. She remains tied to the country by her family. And in any case she told GSN she ‘could not afford to leave’.

Despite this, she said: ‘I have genuinely looked at moving to New Zealand or Canada. A lot of people have had enough and are really scared.

‘I haven’t seen many trans guys saying it but the hate campaign is mostly targeting women.’

Stone says trans women are used to restrictions. For example, she doesn’t feel she can access public swimming pools so seeks out ‘some hidden cove’ to indulge her love of swimming.

But the fact the UK government has stalled progress on reviewing the Gender Recognition Act for several years has heightened tensions.

Moreover, she fears Truss’ apparent policy of having ‘women’s only spaces just for cis women’ shows rights may roll backwards.

‘Severe discrimination against women’

GSN spoke with a trans community leader who said people are ‘absolutely terrified’ by Truss’ proposals. However, they don’t know how to fight them, with coronavirus making protest harder.

Moreover, the Conservative party’s House of Commons majority of 80 makes it easy for the government to turn policies into law.

The trans woman, who didn’t want her name used, said:

‘We are not in rational politics anymore. If she tabled a very short bill, she could ram it through very quickly.’

She said the government’s plans are an attack on the ‘dignity and safety’ of trans women and all women. She added:

‘How demeaning it is for a trans person to have to go into birth sex loos and how unsafe it is for trans women? Then trans guys will have to go to the women’s loos. Do you want a chap going into the ladies because he was born female at birth. So then any man can go in.

‘The logical outcome is every woman in the country would have to buy another piece of ID. So you have severe discrimination against women.’

‘I want to be proud of this country but this country doesn’t want me’

She is considering moving to Ireland and has spoken to her wife about it. 

She added: ‘It is heartbreaking. I am British. I want to be proud of this country but this country doesn’t want me.

‘I hear people talking about moving to Portugal, to Italy, Malta and further afield including Canada, New Zealand, Australia. Everybody I have spoken to who is trans and can afford it is looking to leave.

‘That is a massive indictment when a whole chunk of society feels like this country is no longer safe for them.

‘It tears me apart because you have a responsibility to fight for people who can’t afford to do things. And it is gutting for all the people who felt five or six years ago that we may move into a more accepting time.’

Vulnerable time

The fresh threat to trans lives in the UK comes at a time when the country is preparing to fully leave the EU in December.

The European Court of Justice has been an important player in introducing and guaranteeing trans rights in the country.

Moreover, some Conservative politicians have even hinted the UK may leave the European Court of Human Rights – a separate institution – when Brexit is finished.

So Brexit, coupled with the government’s large majority makes minorities especially vulnerable.

GSN contacted the Government Equalities Office, which represents Truss, to put these women’s concerns to them and ask them to comment. 

A spokesperson replied: The Secretary of State has said that she wants to ensure transgender adults are safe and free to live their lives.

GSN had previously asked the government for more clarity on its plans and been told they are not commenting further on them.