Trans asylum seeker abused in male hostel accuses Home Office of transphobia: ‘They don’t give a f**k’
A trans asylum seeker has accused the Home Office of “transphobia” after misgendering and deadnaming her, and placing her in all-male accommodation.
A 31-year-old trans woman from Trinidad and Tobago, Sara (not her real name) was a medical student before coming to the UK but was told she would have to restart her studies by getting her GCSEs.
She was top of the class in every subject apart from one – GCSE chemistry – and it was all down to a letter from the Home Office she read the night before her exam. The letter, seen by PinkNews, rejected her asylum claim and both deadnaming and misgendering her. The emotional distress from the letter forced her to leave her chemistry exam early.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she tells PinkNews. “I just got up and left and the teachers came out and said, ‘Are you sure you want to leave?’ I said, ‘Yes, I can’t do it.’ And I left. And that’s the reason I failed.
“I got a C. I got A* in every [other] subject.” The mark sunk her chance at becoming an oncologist, something she aspired to be after both her parents were diagnosed with cancer – her mother survived, but her father passed away.
“These are things that I wanted to do,” said Sara, who has been living in Leeds as she awaits deportation, “but I can’t make those changes in the world anymore because of the Home Office”.
“I’ve been in this fight with the Home Office for over seven years. It’s just something that’s not going to happen anymore.”
Sara says what she went through with the Home Office is part of a wider pattern at the department, of distrusting LGBTQ+ asylum seekers simply wishing to flee from persecution – or worse.
Reports have revealed how those assessing asylum claims rely on demeaning stereotypes to decide if someone is LGBTQ+ and use religious beliefs or applicants’ dependency on anti-LGBTQ+ family or friends to discredit them. amounting to what advocates have described as a “culture of disbelief“.
Trans asylum seeker: ‘You have to do it the Home Office way or f**k off’
Sara first applied for asylum in the UK two weeks after she arrived in England on 28 February, 2015, fleeing her abusive stepmother in a country where trans people have next to no rights.
The Home Office first housed her in a hostel in Croydon, London, before she was relocated to Wakefield for 21 days. Asylum seekers who are destitute are provided with temporary accommodation as their eligibility for further support is assessed by immigration officials.
During her stay at an all-male hostel, she says one of her roommates sexually abused her. “At the time I wasn’t focused on hiding my identity, I was focused on what the f**k is going to happen to me. I was visibly not a heterosexual male,” she says.
The abuse didn’t end, though, when she was moved to shared accommodation in Bradford for two years.
Sara says: “I don’t know why the Home Office kept putting me with men who were not the friendliest to the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve always had issues – they threw away my dishes, my washing. They were really horrible people. And the Home Office didn’t care.”
The Home Office eventually cut off her financial support, forcing Sara to live with her violent and alcoholic boyfriend in Hull, who emotionally manipulated her and isolated her from her friends. “I was just like a slave,” she says.
She was then moved back to Bradford in 2019. But when COVID-19 hit, Sara says she was torn out of the West Yorkshire city.
This threw a spanner into Sara’s efforts to get gender-affirming healthcare on the NHS, something she had already been waiting for years for, as so many do, from a gender identity clinic in Leeds. The relocation meant she would have to re-apply and wait even longer.
“I had to put my medical transition on hold, transitioning is not an easy process,” she says.
Sara decided private was her only option and decided she would save up if she was granted asylum as she could finally work. But going private was something the Home Office allegedly said she couldn’t do.
As an asylum seeker, Sara was not eligible for welfare, received next to no financial support and was not allowed to work. With no money, trying to buy the make-up she needs to present as a woman was always out of reach, meaning she didn’t feel she could leave the house.
“If you identify as a trans person and you haven’t fully transitioned already, then it’s null and void. You could go home and live the life that you don’t want, more or less,” she says. “They don’t give a f**k about you, you mental health or how you want to transition. You have to do it their way or f**k off.
“As of now, I’ve not had any surgeries, no laser, no nothing. That’s how I wanted to transition, at least so I can pass. I shouldn’t be forced to do something that I wanted to do my way. This is my transition. I shouldn’t be told how I go about it.”
She ended up at an all-male accommodation – again – for five days in Newcastle in April 2020 before being placed in a mixed-gender hotel in Wakefield and then landing back in Leeds.
As Sara is straight, the Home Office reportedly thought she’d be safe being deported
Sara says: “It’s been a rough f**king time with the Home Office, I’m not gonna lie. But the Home Office told me two days into lockdown I’m being evicted. Man, like what the f**k? There was literally a law in place to stop that from happening.
“When I filed for asylum with the Home Office, I did so when I thought I was a gay male. But everything has changed and I’m not that person anymore. Yet the Home Office failed to recognise that and still brought up stuff from my initial claim, which no longer applies,” she adds.
“It’s really transphobic. I’ve never had any issues with transphobia. No one’s ever been transphobic to me apart from the f**king Home Office, who is a government agency [and] supposed to make me feel safe.”
Sara claims that because she is straight, Home Office decision-makers allegedly told her she’d be fine to return to Trinidad and Tobago, even though she would face discrimination as a trans woman.
“I could go back, make a life for myself and fight the system,” she was allegedly told. So you’re telling me I need to stop my transition and fight a system that could take years, I could probably even be dead before that happened, in order to live the way I want to live?”
Sara says she was told the same during her latest court hearing. “The judge told me that I’m a gay male. I said, hold up, I’m a heterosexual female. So they then said that as a heterosexual female, I could live a normal life in Trinidad. Forgetting that I’m trans.”
The UK government warns travellers “same-sex activity is illegal in Trinidad and Tobago” but does not mention transphobia.
The Home Office has in the past five years sent back 3,071 LGB+ asylum seekers to countries where same-sex attraction is illegal, analysis of Home Office data by the Liberal Democrats found.
“The UK should be advancing the cause of LGBTQ+ rights, at home and abroad, and offering sanctuary to those who need it,” the party’s home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, says.
Sara believes the Home Office feels it can get away with rough-handling asylum seekers due to language barriers and a lack of knowledge about what legal rights they have.
She says: “I come from a country that speaks British English so I could take care of myself, but not for others, they’re not so fortunate. They will just comply because they’re scared and don’t know what to do.”
And Sara is in no way alone in this, says Rainbow Migration, which supports LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees.
“Trans people seeking asylum often face unique additional challenges. The current asylum decision-making guidance lacks up-to-date information around gender identity, which leads to some official written communications not recognising the chosen name of trans people and misgendering them,” a spokesperson says.
“When going through the interview process, trans people are commonly disbelieved by Home Office officials, who sometimes use their deadname or expect a Westernised image of what trans means.
“Trans people can also face difficulties accessing inclusive healthcare and/or support with medically transitioning, particularly if they don’t speak English.
“On the other hand, once they’ve been granted asylum, trans people can still experience transphobia and discrimination and are at higher risk of hate crimes, homelessness and poverty.”
PinkNews has contacted the Home Office for a comment.
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