Today is International Women's Day and we're sharing Bita's story.
International Women’s Day – Bita’s Story
March 8 is International Women’s Day – an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and imagine a world free from gender-based discrimination and violence. This world can be difficult to imagine, particularly for women who are marginalized in multiple ways. And for women who are often denied that very label – woman – by those who claim to be advocates, International Women’s Day can be a painful reminder of their exclusion.
Trans women experience discrimination at a local and global level. This discrimination can come at the hands of their family, their communities, and the state. And it happens everywhere.
Currently, lawmakers in the United States are waging a war on trans healthcare and existence. In 2023 alone, more than two dozen bills seeking to restrict access to gender-affirming care have been introduced in legislatures across the United States. At least 26 bills have been introduced in 14 states by Republican legislators taking aim at drag events. While they do not expressly criminalize trans identities, these bills seek to police and limit free gender expression. Additionally, trans communities continue to be the victim of unjust litigation of identity in mainstream media.
It’s important to note that trans women of color often bear the brunt of stigma and discrimination targeting the LGBTQI+ community. We see this firsthand in our work, where trans women and nonbinary persons (especially trans and nonbinary people of color) are overrepresented in those who request Rainbow Railroad’s assistance, those who report experiencing physical violence, and those who report experiencing mental health concerns.
In 2022, more than 500 trans women reached out to Rainbow Railroad for assistance. In general, trans women self-report many safety concerns at a much higher level than cis women when making requests for help.
Since 2015, Rainbow Railroad has also been able to help more than 150 trans women through emergency travel support and other forms of assistance, while providing support to many organizations that provide protection and support to trans individuals. Trans women in particular are prioritized in Rainbow Railroad’s vulnerability assessment model, meaning they receive priority care.
One of the trans women who reached out to Rainbow Railroad last year was Bita. Born and raised in Iran, Bita faced discrimination and stigma in Iran from a young age and fled her home country for Turkey in 2016. Although she hoped that things would improve, she found that her life in Turkey was even worse. She was unable to secure consistent employment, and experienced daily homophobia and transphobia. Her world began to feel like a prison; she couldn’t even leave her home because of the harassment she experienced at the hands of her neighbors.
Bita learned about Rainbow Railroad through a friend and reached out for support. A caseworker responded to Bita’s request for help and, in 2022, she was able to relocate to Toronto. Although Rainbow Railroad assisted her in her travels, it was Bita’s bravery and persistence that brought her to safety.
Living in Toronto, Bita describes feeling safe and respected. While she is grateful to live here, she also reflects on how common her experience is for trans women around the world, writing “I am sure there are other people like me who need help and I know many of my friends who are now in Turkey and are living a very difficult life, similar to my past.” She dreams of building a comfortable life, studying to be an accountant, and someday pursuing her dream of becoming a fashion designer.
The life Bita can now imagine for herself is out of reach for so many trans women around the world, who experience daily discrimination at home, in the workplace, and in broader society. On International Women’s Day, we know there is so much progress needed to advance the rights of trans women. We have hope for a future free from discrimination for all women, like Bita, but for now, the work continues.