The UK Is So Transphobic That Some Trans People Are Leaving

Many transgender people feel increasingly unsafe in Britain. Some have decided to call time on the country altogether.
A transmasculine person standing by the water and looking into the distance

In January of this year, the Council of Europe listed the UK alongside Russia, Hungary and Poland as a site of "extensive and often virulent attacks'' against LGBT+ rights. In February, the UK’s equalities watchdog, the EHRC, was disavowed by a coalition of 19 LGBT+ organisations who called on the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions to revoke the body’s A-rating over institutional transphobia. In April, the government’s own LGBT+ convention Safe to Be Me was cancelled after being boycotted over its decision to exclude trans people from its ban on LGBT conversion therapy.


Transgender identity hate crimes increased 3 percent from 2020 to 2021, according to the Home Office’s annual hate crimes report. It should be noted that that worrying increase follows on from a shocking 16 percent leap in such crimes the previous year. Even the BBC has been accused of platforming hate speech.

The UK is becoming an increasingly transphobic place. Though there is scant research on the number of trans people leaving the country, I feel less and less safe living in this country and find myself eyeing up potential exits – and I’m not the only one. It’s something I hear increasingly echoed in my own group of peers.

I spoke with three trans people who have either recently left, or are in the process of leaving the UK, to try and understand the factors driving trans people to leave the country. None of the trans people I spoke with claim to have found a utopia of trans inclusion in their new homeland - each country has its own issues. Cammy Osaba moved to Norway from the UK in 2020, after coming out in 2016. Alongside transphobia, their decision to move was inspired by Brexit and a desire to stay with their longtime partner, who is Norwegian.

The nonbinary 23-year-old has faced problems around trans healthcare in Norway, saying that the country’s only Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) “is notoriously difficult to be referred to, and incredibly binarist,” adding that “transition with them essentially comes as a package deal”.


“On the other hand,” they added, “I simply went to a GP here, handed over a psychologist's note that said I have [gender] dysphoria and should take such and such a dose of estrogen, and got that no problem.” This is a marked contrast to the experiences of many trans people in the UK, where you can be stuck on an NHS waiting list for years.

It was only when Rose, a 28-year old trans-femme artist, moved from Edinburgh to Belgium, in 2021, that she realised that the trans community in the UK had become used to the role that the media played in escalating anti-trans narratives. “We’re so used to being the headline news, so used to being targeted and attacked," says Rose, who requested a pseudonym to protect her identity. “Any trans person who doesn't feel [that the UK is increasingly transphobic] must be burying their heads quite far in the sand. Which is not to not to put a judgement on it at all. It's just that we're all trying to sort of survive, while there is a directed media attack that's been going on for years now.”

Rose certainly isn’t alone in these fears, in early January of this year activists gathered outside London’s BBC headquarters to protest what some have described as “bigotry” in the UK media’s discussion of trans rights and issues.


Elle, a trans woman in her mid-40s who also requested a pseudonym to protect her identity, is currently in the process of leaving the UK. When she started transitioning, around 2010, she felt that mass media was "generally neutral to trans people, with advances in trans rights... framed as a good thing,” adding that the “occasional famous trans person was generally regarded well and without criticism for their having transitioned”. She has seen a drastic change in the media’s treatment of trans people since then, noting that “these days, groups such as LGB Alliance get platformed as if they were representatives of counter-culture views, when the reality is that they are a front for the reactionary conservative viewpoint.”

Cammy feels that the media’s treatment of trans people has only worsened in the last few years. “It was already crappy beforehand, [I’ve] been to enough counter-demonstrations of TERF events to attest to that,” they say. “But wow, it's snowballed in the last two years. [Transphobic talking points have] gotten such a media spotlight compared to the occasional controversy they would stir up with the likes of Woman's Place.” They went on to talk about a “conspiratorial spin that's just gotten more and more commonly applied to even mainstream news, wherein the apparently evil ‘transes’ are secretly controlling every level of government to silence women. I mean obviously that bullshit existed before, but it was far more fringe than the weird prevalence it's gaining now.”


For Rose, it was JK Rowling’s infamous letter that helped platform and normalise transphobic talking points. For her, it also hurt on a personal level, saying, “JK Rowling had a very specific place. For our generation, for UK people, for queer trans neurotypical people. That's what really messed me up anyway, when JK Rowling came out and said all this rampantly transphobic stuff and released the statement and everything.” 

It’s important to remember that trans people can, of course, be affected by issues other than transphobia. As a mixed race trans woman, Elle’s decision to leave the UK was “partly to get away from the rising tide of racism”. Elle said that she“noticed a distinct increase in verbal assaults and racist attacks since the [Brexit] referendum”. For Elle, racism and transphobia run in parallel – both contributed to her need to leave the UK.

Rose’s move was also motivated in part by a desire for mobility and fears of post-Brexit restrictions on relocation. “I don't want to stay stuck in the UK for what it is and what it's becoming politically… I'm aware that Brexit’s closing up and everything, I need to work at having freedom of movement. It feels like it’s quite vital, as a trans person, to not be stuck on this island.”

When asked for their thoughts on trans people leaving the UK, Robbie de Santos, Director of Communications and External Affairs at Stonewall UK, said: “It’s heartbreaking to hear that many trans people no longer feel that the UK is a safe place for them to live. Trans people make up a small section of society but face relentless challenges and attacks on their existence. The current moral panic against trans people is harmfully perpetuated by media outlets who continue to push harmful anti-trans narratives while failing to address the real issues that trans people face.

“The UK is also failing to keep pace with other countries who are pushing ahead with reforms to make life easier for trans people, and falling behind on the global LGBTQ+ rights stage. Meanwhile the UK Government is still stalling on necessary reform to the Gender Recognition Act, while our own Equality and Human Rights Commission is spreading dangerous anti-trans talking points.”

The basic message of each conversation I had for this article was the same: that the interviewees feel, or hope they will feel, safer living outside of the UK. Those I spoke to who have already left were glad to have gotten out, and all were concerned about where the treatment of trans people in the UK is headed. For Cammy, the weighing up of options around whether to return  to the UK or to their family in Poland is "rapidly becoming more and more equal”. If the UK continues down this path of increasing transphobia we may well see the stories shared by Cammy, Rose, and Elle becoming more and more common.