This brave trans woman is helping others flee hate in the US: ‘We’re accused of being pedophiles’

A protester holds a placard with the colours of the transgender flag saying trans rights are human rights

A transgender woman has launched an organisation to help trans people escape the US after witnessing increasing hostility across the country and a raft of new discriminatory laws.

Rynn Azerial Willgohs, 50, originally started TRANSport as a Facebook group, but it quickly grew, and received non-profit status in November. The organisation, which accepts donations, has already been contacted by 30 people looking for assistance.

She’s been the victim of anti-LGBTQ+ incidents herself, and has been personally attacked.

“All you need to do is look at the news and see how bad it’s going to get in the country,” Willgohs told VICE News.

“We’re accused of being pedophiles and of grooming children.

“We’re being accused of being a social contagion that makes every child think they are in the queer community. That’s the farthest from the truth.”

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Willgohs said that the organisation’s official application process won’t open until the end of February and initially will only be able to help trans people in three states: North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. However, she hopes this will inspire other similar groups to open across the country.

She told Vice News that two events led her to take action. First, in March 2021, a man attacked her in a public toilet while she was on a work trip. She feared he was going to kill her. Then, in June last year, the US Supreme Court overturned the right to legal abortions, leading to fears that LGBTQ+ rights could also be targeted by the court, which has a strong conservative majority.

Willgohs began researching United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ guidelines on the process of obtaining refugee status based on sexual and gender orientation. Hoping to better understand suitable options for relocation, she started looking into LGBTQ+ organisations in Europe.

In 2021, according to FBI data, there were 1,127 hate crimes motivated by a person’s sexual orientation and 266 motivated by gender identity in the US.

Crimes relating to a person’s gender identity rose by more than 40 per cent between 2018 and 2021. Transgender women of colour – particularly Black women – face fatal violence disproportionately, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

‘Prove this country isn’t safe for you’

Willgohs is considering moving to Iceland after visiting the country, feeling that her trans identity won’t be an issue there. However, due to Europe’s unclear asylum laws relating to trans people, she does not know if the move is possible.

Human rights researcher, Nora Noralla, told VICE: “European cases, when it comes to trans cases, are generally very strict… asylum is really a high-bar process.”

“[America] is still a first-world country and strongest economy in the world. You still have [the] rule of law, you still have human rights mechanisms,” she explained.

“To apply for asylum, you need to prove that the entire country isn’t safe for you. You need to prove this is a federal policy.”

But she added: “It’s not hard for [Americans] to come to Europe… If any trans Americans want to come, they have options. They don’t need to apply for asylum.”

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