November 20th is Trans Day of Remembrance, an important date on which the LGBTI community remembers and celebrates the transgender people who have lost their lives. In this wonderful guest blog, Alana, trans woman, refugee and board member of Micro Rainbow, tells of the experiences of trans asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.


We are living in turbulent times. There is the chaos of the global pandemic, the never-ending Brexit negotiations and a constant debate on transgender identity in the UK. It is important not to forget how these issues can affect the lives of individuals, especially those from marginalised communities who are, all too often, forgotten about.

Thousands of people claim asylum in the UK every year, some of which are transgender people escaping dangerous situations in their home countries. The journey to reach the UK as an asylum seeker is challenging and it can even be deadly, but it's far from the only challenge. Britain is a more multicultural country than ever before, which has brought great strengths to the nation but has also incited some controversy. As a result, people are now facing new challenges when settling in the UK, and transgender asylum seekers face unique and painful obstacles.


The challenges of being a trans asylum seeker

Trans asylum seekers are repeatedly misgendered by Home Office officials and often receive correspondence addressed to our old (referred to as 'dead') names. It's a mistake caused by a system designed for cis-gendered applicants, and it is a dehumanising and hurtful experience.

One of the biggest issues I faced when I was claiming asylum was getting access to hormones and other medication prescribed for transitioning. I had been transitioning before I stepped foot in the UK and it was vital that I kept the process going which required me to take medication daily. The UK government did not have a policy in place to provide transgender asylum seekers with the basic healthcare I needed. As a result, I was forced to discontinue my medical transition, which deeply affected me both physically and mentally. I really mean it when I say that I would not wish it on my worst enemy. Accessing appropriate healthcare is extremely difficult, especially as most gender clinics are located in London and most asylum seekers are housed outside of London.

What's more, trans asylum seekers often feel unsafe in Home Office accommodation. Other asylum seekers sharing your accommodation may have strong views about LGBTI people. It is very scary not having a safe place to go home to, especially when you are in a totally foreign country. If you do not speak English very well, it feels impossible to know who to trust and how to get help.


The challenges of being a trans refugee

Things can get easier for trans asylum seekers when they are granted refugee status. After receiving a positive decision on your application, you then have access to welfare/public funds and can begin to secure independent access to accommodation, education, training and employment. You might still experience everyday transphobia as you navigate public services in the UK as frontline staff do not always have experience working with LGBTI people.

It is important to feel connected to the community and to integrate into broader society to build a stable, fulfilling life. Living in the UK gives you the opportunity to connect with a very multicultural society, but there are still challenges. 

I am still facing transphobia in the UK, even two years after being granted refugee status. It is a long-term issue that requires widespread change. For the past decade, the existence and rights of transgender people has been publicly debated in the UK. There are strong advocates on each side of this debate, with some trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) voices being very prominent. It is bewildering to have one’s life up for discussion and on the news. 

The rise of hate crimes against trans people is also very worrying. As a victim of a hate crime myself, it has caused me a lot of anxiety. I experience deep fear when navigating public spaces, especially women-only spaces. How can a trans woman integrate into society when that very society can be unsafe for trans people?


Accessing support

To help trans asylum seekers and refugees you can support organisations and charities that provide them with direct support, such as Micro Rainbow. There are also exciting new grassroots initiatives emerging to provide specific services to the community. One such organisation is We Exist, who provide emergency funds for trans people struggling to afford healthcare. It is also important to make British society more welcoming to trans people in general, a project which many fantastic advocacy organisations are undertaking.

Transgender people, in general, are a marginalised community. Many of us struggle to make ends meet in a world that is fundamentally not built for us. As a result, many have started crowd-funding pages to help pay for essential transition treatments. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. If you know any transgender asylum seekers or refugees, you can help them by donating to their crowd-funding page if they have one. I think every trans asylum seeker would benefit from having a designated crowd-funding source as a pragmatic way to access medical care.


It is unfortunate that the more intersectional your identities are the more oppressed you will be. Transgender asylum seekers may well be facing the largest of those interconnected challenges. There are many serious issues every asylum seeker faces, but trans asylum seekers in particular are in dire need of help. I hope my article has shed some light on some of the issues transgender refugees and asylum seekers face. I have built a fantastic life in the UK, but there is still a lot of work to be done to make all trans asylum seekers and refugees safe.