No more whitewashing- the harsh realities of transphobic trends across Europe: Theimportance of listening to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees on the margin

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A quick Google keyword search on “LGBTQ+” and “Europe” quickly directs the user to websites listing “Europe’s 10 most LGBTQ-friendly countries”, “10 of Europe’s best destinations for LGBTQ+ travelers this Pride season”, “The Best Countries to be LGBTI In Europe”, “This is Europe’s most LGBT+-friendly country”, “Sweden: an open country where LGBTQ+ rights are the norm”, “And the gayest city in Europe is….” and “Europe is still the best place to live for gay people”. Based on these search results, it appears that Europe has acquired a generally “inclusive” and “safe” reputation in relation to the LGBTQIA+ community and their rights, representation and visibility across societies.

Such clear-cut headlines which portray Europe as a “gay safe haven” however silence the violent realities of LGBTQIA+ people who live on the margin. In particular, transgender and gender-diverse migrants, asylum seekers and refugees residing in Europe are disproportionately exposed to multiple and intersecting forms of abuse, exclusion and hate crime. Transgender Europe (TGEU) releases annual updates of their Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) research project, which registers murders of transgender and gender- diverse people on a global level. The latest update (November 2023) reports a total of 321 murder cases for the period between October 1 st 2022 and September 30 th 2023 (TGEU, 2023). Murders in Europe are well represented within the report, amounting to a total of 16, including murders in Belgium and Slovakia, which were reported for the first time since the TMM was launched. The TMM moreover indicates racial, ethnic, occupational and migration background-related trends which carry through the murder cases. 94% of the victims were trans women or trans feminine people, 80% of the victims were racialized, while 45% of victims murdered in Europe were migrants or refugees (ibid).

These numbers speak to broad, cross-border and, most importantly, systematically enforced forms of discrimination and violence which drive hate crimes against transgender and gender-
diverse migrants and refugees in Europe. More precisely, the reported murder cases showcase the clear intersections between racism, gender-based violence, xenophobia and the emotional
politics of anti-immigration rhetoric/practice in Europe. As a result, Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Color (BIPOC) LGBTQIA+ migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who are often
subjected to conversion therapy, rape, sexual assault and torture in their home countries (Shaw and Verghese, 2022:1) find themselves, again, victimized in European host societies. In fact,
LGBTQIA+ Muslim migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are especially at risk in European societies, where, throughout the last decade, Islamophobia, racism, anti-gender movements and extreme right-wing and populist politics have increasingly gained momentum (idem: 27). The safety of BIPOC LGBTQIA+ persons, especially transgender migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, is thus jeopardized in European societies which operate on political norms of racialization and harassment. Within an online survey conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), which 139,799 LGBTI persons living in the EU, North Macedonia and Serbia participated in, 40% of the respondents self-identifying as members of an ethnic minority and/or having an immigrant background outlined migratory background and ethnic origin as additional grounds for discrimination besides being part of LGBTI+ community (FRA, 2020:21).

Among the most alarming outcomes of such intersectional forms of discrimination in Europe are the consistently high rates of transphobia, including hate crimes. Various types of transphobic harassment and hate crimes exist, ranging from, but not limited to, degrading, unsolicited comments and verbal abuse to threatening behavior and physical and sexual abuse/assault (in the worst case murder). An analysis of three case studies of transphobic hate crime involving trans women which occurred in the UK found that: 1. attacks on trans women by men are implicitly regarded as “male-on-male” attacks, 2. trans women’s vulnerability as women and as trans women is overlooked and 3. trans women are presumed by the police as the cause of the incident rather than the victim. These conditions hinder the effective prosecution of transphobic hate crime (Turner et al., 2009:2). Hate crimes and transphobic narratives deprive trans people of their sense of safety and protection and are largely responsible for the broad dehumanization, alienation, and objectification they suffer from, while reinforcing feelings of internalized shame, but also gender dysphoria, which many trans people and gender-diverse persons struggle with. Transgender migrants, asylum seekers and refugees living in Europe are at high risk, as they face a cultural, societal and political environment which increasingly relies on xenophobic, racist and extreme right-wing practices, while exploiting the irrational “fear of the unknown” which many citizens experience in relation to the “immigration debate”. Transgender migrants, asylum seekers and refugees remain “disqualified” from public life in Europe and are extremely vulnerable in their new societies, where they often lack socio-economic support networks and undergo processes of multiple exclusion, including systematic discrimination. Their experience with a myriad of vulnerabilities, risks and threats clearly differs from sparkly narratives of “Europe, the safe LGBTQ+ haven”. Research and reports such as the TMM are crucial for highlighting their violent lived experiences, yet it is important to remember that, much like in the case of rape and/or domestic abuse, only a tiny fraction of transphobic incidents are actually reported. In order to achieve radical, but also long-term change in European societies regarding transphobia, nourishing local, regional and national channels which represent and empower transgender migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, building up resilience within vulnerable communities and supporting grassroots movements and community-based organizations within civil society is of utmost importance.

by Kaja Simmen


European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). 2020. A long way to go for LGBTI
equality. Luxembourg. Available at:
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Shaw, A. and Verghese, N. (2022). LGBTQI+ Refugees and Asylum Seekers: A Review of
Research and Data Needs. UCLA School of Law: Williams Institute. Available at:
(Last accessed: December 9, 2023).
TGEU. (2023). Trans Murder Monitoring 2023 Global Update. [Online]. Available at: (Last accessed: December 9, 2023).
Turner, L., Whittle, S. and Combs, R. (2009). Transphobic Hate Crime in the European
Union. London: Press for Change.