Trans rescue: A refuge for victims fleeing violence

Two transgender Dutch women, one American and the other British, are a crucial source of support for trans people around the globe.

Trans rescue: A refuge for victims fleeing violence

Two transgender Dutch women, one American and the other British, are a crucial source of support for trans people around the globe. They are trying to make a refuge in Kenya for people fleeing violence, despite living on a very tight budget and spending a lot of their own money.

Every message that Anne Ogborn receives in her Trans Rescue email inbox is unique. This particular one was however unusual. Eight young transgender women were in desperate circumstances in Mombasa when a friend of a friend met them. They were being held in a "one-room holding cell", and could be attacked if they leave. They were running out of food. Anne could you help?

Anne, sitting in her Dutch flat, immediately thought about a transgender woman she knew from Kenya called Nuru (not her real identity). Anne and her flatmate had not supported Nuru for six months, so Anne needed to locate a trans community in Mombasa.

Trans Rescue is often reminded of Nuru's tragic story, but it was simpler.

Nuru, 26 years old, knew she was transgender since a young age. She says, "I was always there with the girls."

This wasn't a problem until puberty. But then, the village began to be suspicious of the young man they thought was sexy.

She says, "I knew that I was fine and that there wasn't anything wrong with me." Her family disagreed. She was beaten by her family and taken to a witchdoctor who claimed that a curse had been placed on her. She said that this was the reason she turned out that way.

Nuru ran away a year ago. She got to the bus stop and waited. She clung to the back, even though she didn't know where it was going. She would have traveled anywhere.

She saw Mombasa's open sea and white sands hours later when her van stopped. Although she found work as a waitress there, people began to abuse her and threaten her when they discovered that she was transgender. Nuru was terrified and stopped leaving her home. Anne was suggested by one of her friends as a possible source of advice.

Anne was born and raised in the USA. She has been an advocate for trans rights since the 1980s.

Inquisitive about the experiences of people with gender differences around the globe, she moved to India to live in the Hijra community. This group is sometimes called India's third sex and has existed in Hindu society for over 2,000 years.

She was almost done with activism when Donald Trump became president.

Anne felt increasingly uncomfortable watching a president take steps to ban transgender people from the military, and to remove protections for transgender people at work and school.

It was actually a US Department of Health memo, which suggested that someone's gender could be determined based on their genitalia at the time of birth.

Anne met Misty Hill, a transgender woman who felt the same way. They left the US in 2018. Anne moved to Ireland and Misty to the Netherlands.

Anne says, "Misty said to me that he and I would start an organization to help other people get out of the US when we get ourselves out from the US."

With Anne's support, Misty created TransEmigrate in 2020.

They expected to get calls from North America and possibly some South American countries. As word spread, messages began to come in from all corners of the globe.

Anne says, "We got an instant education on how many transpeople are trapped in their country."

Anne launched Trans Rescue again last year with Jenny List, a transgender woman from Britain. (Misty does her own advocacy work here in Ireland. Each week they receive around four requests for assistance, most of them from North Africa, South America and the Middle East.

The organisation has been granted charitable status and can count on the support of volunteers from several countries. However, the organization's resources are limited.

"We connect people via an underground online queer network. Anne says that everyone knows someone.

Volunteers should keep an open ear and their eyes wide open. Anne and Jenny in Amsterdam will help to find temporary housing for transgender people if they learn that someone is in danger.

Anne claims that the team has invested their entire life savings in the operation but can only physically move 15 people to another country.

Anne states that it is difficult and slow to move people legally and safely.

In many cases, they also move them within the country. You might also find that callers are most interested in information.

She says that sometimes people simply want to know their options. "We operate in countries where people are illegally on the run. Trans people need us to provide an essential service.

Trans Rescue assisted Nuru in moving to a safer location and connecting her with transgender women in Kenya.

Nuru asked Anne if she would be willing to volunteer for Trans Rescue. Anne then heard about eight trans women in Mombasa and knew who she should call.

Nuru was pleased to repay the favor, but she wasn’t prepared for the sight: eight people were packed into a small, dark room and baking in the unbearable Mombasa heat.

Nuru says, "They were burning." "They were traumatised."

A man found the group on a beach and offered his shelter to them. These men had repeatedly abused them sexually and physically.

They were starving and would lie in bed, hungry and thirsty, in order to be alert for an attack.

Nuru called Anne & Jenny and arranged for them all to be moved. They also provided money for rent and food.

They were not safe in their new home, however. Two men attacked them as they walked along the beach, killing one.

Anne feels this highlights the need to provide refuge for transgender people in Eden House, which will be located in a large Kenyan town.

It won't be a hideout like Trans Rescue's secret safehouses, but rather a large building in which Anne hopes transgender people can live freely and without fear.

She says it would be the first such project in the world.

"We want the house to be an institution large enough to create a bubble of trans acceptance around it."

"We want it be a place for trans people from all parts of the globe to come and live.

"If we have safe buildings in Kenya, we can transport people to dangerous places."

The house has been located. Now, it is time to find 10,000 euro (PS8,600), to purchase it and make basic repairs.

The first residents would be the seven transgender women who have escaped Mombasa. Anne states that it would be open for people from all parts of the world. Anne cites an example: a transman they helped escape from Saudia Arabia earlier this month. He might have been killed if he had not stayed.

Anne hopes to one day be able provide therapy to those who are in need, but for the moment the emphasis is on physical survival.

"We are ordinary people. We want to live the life we have always wanted."

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