Willgohs first considered leaving the United States entirely in the summer of 2022, shortly after Roe v. Wade was overturned. She was on vacation in Iceland when the decision came down, and people who knew her as an advocate started calling her to express their concerns that the Supreme Court would target LGBTQ rights next. (Those concerns were warranted: In his concurring opinion in Roe, Justice Clarence Thomas welcomed legal challenges to marriage equality and other privacy-based rights, prompting the passage of federal marriage protections in December 2022.)
“All you need to do is look at the news and see how bad it’s going to get in the country. We’re accused of being pedophiles and of grooming children. We’re being accused of being a social contagion.”
The UN guidelines around LGBTQ asylum claimants are broad: The term “persecution…can be considered to involve serious human rights violations, including a threat to life or freedom as well as other kinds of serious harm.” Physical, psychological, and sexual violence are listed as threats that “would generally meet the threshold level required to establish persecution.” The guidelines also say that a person doesn’t need to have a history of persecution to potentially qualify for asylum.
“I wish TRANSport didn’t have to be a thing. I wish that we didn’t live in a country where our rights are regularly debated in our government.”
Reed said she knows of some people, including trans influencers, who’ve relocated to Canada, but she said she’s unsure under what conditions. Despite this uncertainty, TRANSport is gathering funds and preparing to help trans Americans leave, a sign of how desperate the situation has become for some. Even if some people can’t move successfully, Willgohs said, it’s a win if TRANSport is able to support some people through their transitions—by teaching people how to change their legal names and pronouns, for example.And as the national picture worsens for transgender Americans, LGBTQ asylum seekers from other parts of the world are still trying to come to the country. According to the Transgender Law Center, transgender migrants have been granted asylum in the U.S. for belonging to a “particular social group” that is persecuted or at risk of persecution. Between 2007 and 2017, about 4,400 LGBTQ people sought asylum in the U.S. because of the way their gender or sexual orientation were being targeted, NBC reported. The Trump administration rolled back rights for asylum seekers, in part making it more difficult for women and LGBTQ people, but President Joe Biden canceled those limits on asylum eligibility in 2021. Some U.S. states have indeed enacted policies to help make trans people safe. In 2022, California became the first sanctuary state for transgender people fleeing notoriously anti-trans states when and if they can afford it. But for some, it feels like a stopgap.“A lot of people might be looking at the landscape that we’re currently sitting in and asking themselves, ‘If I move now, will this just be a temporary thing that protects me or will this be a longer-term move?’” said Reed, the trans activist. “Whenever we see places like Iceland or Canada and Sweden protecting their transgender population, I think that there’s definitely a drive to say, ‘let’s just leave this entirely and go somewhere where we know we’re going to be safe for a very long time.’” Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
“I know things are bad in the U.S. with increasing anti-trans legislation and anti-trans attitudes increasing. But that does not make them eligible for asylum and I hope they do not apply for asylum.”