In the first week of 2023, more than two dozen bills aiming to restrict rights and healthcare access for transgender people have already been introduced across 11 states—and that’s before any legislative sessions have even taken place. As life for the LGBTQ+ community is looking increasingly oppressive and deadly, some trans people are hoping to preempt the inevitable by looking for ways out of the country.
In a new report from Vice, Rynn Azerial Willgohs, a 50-year-old trans woman, and several other trans people detailed their efforts to flee the United States and seek asylum elsewhere. Willgohs, who started a nonprofit called TRANSport to help people transition and eventually relocate to areas of refuge, hopes to claim asylum in Iceland, a country she has visited and felt safe in. There, she feels her identity, and existence, as a trans woman is a “non-issue.”
“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. “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.”
Willgohs is more than justified in pursuing extreme measures for her own safety: The state of transgender rights in this country grows darker with each passing year. Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia all have targeted anti-trans legislation set for 2023, according to the AP. Many of these bills seek to criminalize health care providers and the parents of trans kids who might aid in helping their child transition or seek gender-affirming care—a form of healthcare that has been widely deemed “medically necessary.” Some, like three bills already introduced in Texas, would characterize any sort of gender-affirming care to minors as child abuse, and Oklahoma wants to ban gender-affirming care of anyone under age 26.
The idea for TRANSport came in March 2021, just after Willgohs had started her transition. During a road trip, she stopped at a public bathroom, where a man followed her inside and pushed her against a wall. Wilgohs thought she was going to be choked to death, she says. Though she currently resides in Fargo, North Dakota, she tells Vice she’s always on edge in rural areas and in other states. “There’s like 30 states right now I wouldn’t even drive through,” Willgohs said.
About 30 people have contacted Willgohs seeking assistance with the relocation process. But Nora Noralla, a human rights researcher, told Vice trans people likely don’t need to seek asylum, consulting the somewhat vague United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees guidelines. Because there are safer blue states in which they might relocate, and because the US is a first world country, there are other LGBTQ+ refugees from other countries like Egypt who have no other options that should be prioritized as asylum seekers.
Until logistics are better understood, TRANSport aims to serve trans people in the North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota areas, and Willgohs hopes to see similar organizations founded all over the country to keep trans Americans safe, against all odds.