In a recent blog we shared one trans woman’s first hand experiences of what it is to be trans in the UK. We conducted a Twitter poll on the back of the story which revealed that 75% of 1,931 respondents said they had, or were thinking about leaving the UK. In this blog we explore the subject in more detail.
We spoke with someone who has emigrated, and the Director of a free trans emigration service to find out more about the growing trend of leaving the UK for somewhere less transphobic.
English woman Amber relocated to Ireland in 2014. While Amber initially moved to Ireland to study, she says that leaving the UK gave her the space she needed, “to figure out who I was.”
“The freedom and community I found in Ireland gave me the strength and space I needed to interrogate my identity and gender. It’s impossible to say whether I would have come to the same conclusions about who I was if I had never moved here.”
Amber calls Ireland, “a beautiful and welcoming place to be trans. There are excellent compassionate organisations run by and for trans people in Ireland.”
On the downside of living in Ireland, Amber is unequivocal: healthcare. “My experience of engaging with the Irish healthcare system has been the absolute worst thing about living here and probably the single greatest obstacle to my happiness. As a trans person asking for my most basic healthcare needs to be met in this country, I feel like I have been at best patronised, and at worst treated with suspicion and animosity.”
According to Amber some Irish practitioners are ill informed about trans healthcare, “I was told as a UK citizen I should join the waiting list for the London-based Tavistock and Portman Trust, as its two year waiting list was still comparably shorter than the Irish alternative of Loughlinstown National Gender Service. I was on this waiting list for around a year before I received a letter telling me that as a permanent resident in Ireland, I was ineligible for help on the NHS.”
Shockingly the letter was sent to Amber’s parent’s address which effectively outed her to her parents. “To be placed on the correct waiting list, I had to educate my GP as to what the clinical options were in Ireland, as there was absolutely no institutional knowledge about care for trans patients. I was eventually placed on the waiting list for Loughlinstown NGS in 2018, after 2 years of trying. I am currently still on this waiting list. I have received no information about when to expect my first appointment.”
“At the same time in the UK, I watched as anti-trans radicals funded by US money infected every major party and broadcaster in the UK. The Tories, Labour, The Green Party, the SNP, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the BBC, ITV and many more have all contributed to an environment where trans people’s identities and bodies are used to create controversy in an effort to manufacture views and gain political capital.”
“This had real world effects on trans people, with increases in transphobic hate crimes, workplace abuse and the withholding of vital medicine from trans young people across the UK. England has become a global exporter of transphobia and transphobes. It is readily apparent to me that I am no longer welcome in this country.”
“Every time I have travelled back to the UK to see my family, I have been more trans and the UK has been more transphobic. I am a white woman and so it is important for me to not co-opt the violence and fear of violence that is so disproportionately directed at gender non-conforming people of colour. I can only recount my own experience of being visibly trans in the UK, which is that each time I returned, there would be more looks, more comments.”
“I have not been back to see my family for 2 years now and the thought of returning to the UK leaves me with a ball of fear in the pit of my stomach…I can say that I categorically would never move back to the UK at this point.”
Irish-American trans woman Misty Hill also relocated to Ireland and her experience of fleeing Trump’s America caused her to set up TransEmigrate a free European organisation devoted to helping transgender people around the world who want to relocate to safer countries.
TransEmigrate find legal paths to emigration for people who need to relocate to a country where it is safer to be transgender. They also maintain a list of Destination Countries that they recommend as safe havens for trans people.
Misty says that there is a huge need for the service that she and her team provide:
“We’re almost a year old now, and we’ve had a few good successes already. So far we’ve helped in a South Africa to Ireland case, a US to Canada case, and a UK to Portugal case. We have dozens of others that we are actively working on. As an all-volunteer organisation, we always have more people in need than we can help, but we do our best to keep up.”
Misty and her team are currently working on a world map that will include ratings for almost every country in the world. “The absolute most hostile countries to trans people in the world are in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, with Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan probably the worst of all. In the Western world, the most hostile places for us are Poland, Hungary, and the “Deep South” region of the USA.”
“We’ve had about 15 applications from the UK, most in the past six months or so. We’ve already helped a client with an England to Portugal case, and she seems quite happy there now. We have an active NI client who we are helping move down to the Republic. And we have an English client who we are helping do the same.”
“We’re aware of the situation with a rise in hate groups and an increase in fascism in the UK, and while it’s not as bad as some countries we work in, we are definitely concerned about what’s going on in your country. Right now, Scotland is the only part of the UK that we consider “safe” for trans people, and we are considering downgrading that rating.”
For trans people seeking to leave the UK, Misty recommends looking at Germany and Portugal, “They have relatively easy legal paths to migration there and our organisation has members based in those countries. Ireland (the Republic) is also well-worth considering, as due to the Common Travel Area (CTA), British citizens are welcome to live and work in Ireland completely passport free.”
“Conditions for trans people in the Republic are considerably better than in the UK in many ways (sadly, not including healthcare), and five years residency in Ireland will allow you to apply for Irish citizenship with full EU rights.”
The main advice Misty offers to anyone thinking of leaving the UK is to start networking now. “Make sympathetic friends online in your intended destination country. Build the network that will help support you on arrival. Save up for the move, also don’t be afraid to crowdfund, but if you do, be completely open about your intentions and set concrete goals.”
“TransEmigrate can help with all these things. We have networks in various destination countries as well, please see the Destination Countries page on our website. For more information, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.”