Hide table of contents

Synopsis: Trans Rescue uses their existing experience and infrastructure for moving African trans people to safety to help LGBTQ+ people of all sorts escape genocide in Uganda, costing an estimated €150 to move a person to safety outside the country and €1257 in housing costs and other support to help them become financially self sufficient in their new location.

You might have heard about Uganda’s new laws and crackdown targeting LGBTQ+ people, which began in March. “Homosexual activity” has been illegal in Uganda for a long time, but under this bill, people who even say that they are LGBT+ or “promote homosexuality” (such as advocating for LGBTQ+ people’s rights, or writing a positive or neutral article about homosexuality) face criminal charges and imprisonment. Renting living space to a gay person or conducting a same-sex marriage ceremony would also be criminalized with prison sentences of up to 10 years.

The president of Uganda has not yet signed the bill, but the homophobic fervor around it is already wreaking havoc in LGBTQ+ Ugandans’ lives. Many of Trans Rescue’s passengers were evicted by their landlords without any warning or opportunity to retrieve their things. In one particularly violent example, a landlord was convinced by a local preacher that his two trans tenants were evil and set fire to their belongings while they weren’t home, burning down his building in the process. Existing shelters for LGBTQ+ people also face eviction. Violence and sexual assault is becoming more frequent (cw violence, rape, police brutality: source).

International NGOs have been slow to respond. In an article on Trans Writes, Trans Rescue treasurer Jenny List writes that their passengers haven’t seen any other international organizations working to protect or evacuate LGBTQ+ Ugandans, though some organizations say they have plans in the works.

“Of course, we’ve asked around to find out what’s being done by those organisations, and the answer has come back from several quarters that things are in motion, but under the radar. We’re told that too public a move might cause them to be accused by the Ugandan government of being colonialist, and we understand that. We’re happy to hear that so much is being done, we really are.”

“Unfortunately, the fact remains that the people on the ground aren’t seeing it. Things they can’t see are of little use to them, when what they need is to escape an angry mob or a police manhunt.”

Trans Rescue was unusually well positioned to help. They’ve been helping trans people escape danger, especially in Africa and the Middle East, since 2021, and several of their board members did similar work in the organization’s previous incarnation as Trans Emigrate. In addition to their experience planning travel for people who face extra scrutiny due to their country of origin, they operate a trans safe haven in neighboring Kenya called Eden House. In light of the danger that queer Ugandans of all sorts are facing right now, they are providing transportation and shelter for LGBTQ+ people of all sorts fleeing Uganda.

Effective Altruists often avoid donating to acute crisis that make the news. Newsworthy events are often relatively less underfunded, especially when they occur in the western world. The difficult logistics of providing aid for events like natural disasters can also be an obstacle. Uganda’s proposed LGBTQ+ bill has received some media coverage, but the people who have the ability to donate and would consider the people affected “one of us” - LGBTQ+ people in wealthier nations - are focused on the rise in transphobia in the US and UK right now. Trans Rescue already has a presence in the region in Eden House, their trans haven in neighboring Kenya, and has prior experience with helping LGBTQ+ people in east Africa escape dangerous situations.

Trans Rescue’s passengers leave Uganda on Trans Rescue’s hired bus, to avoid the risk of a non-affiliated passenger on a public bus reporting the group to the police. Trans Rescue also facilitates them getting the vaccinations they need to legally cross the border, when necessary. On arrival, passengers stay at Eden House, or another group living space rented by Trans Rescue, or with local friends. This method lets Trans Rescue help large numbers of at-risk Ugandans to safety on a very minimal budget.

Estimate of Costs

The chair of Trans Rescue’s board, Anne Ogborn, tells me that helping a person leave Uganda costs about €120, plus a 20% buffer to account for people who don’t show up (sometimes scammers, sometimes people too afraid to travel), bringing the estimate up to €150. This includes hiring a bus, buying food for the trip, and providing the passengers with the vaccinations required to cross the border. Trans Rescue is working on buying a car so that they can reduce the cost further, and reduce the risk of being discovered by the police by hiring a local driver they know and trust. They also hope to reduce the cost of vaccinations for future passengers through a partnership with a sympathetic local nurse.

It’s near impossible to be completely prepared for a crisis, and Trans Rescue has had to iterate rapidly to rise to the occasion. Challenges have included avoiding scammers (by closing online intake and instead using passengers’ networks of LGBTQ+ friends and family to contact others who might need to leave) and avoiding the notice of the police. They are also moving more people more quickly than ever before and changing the way they operate to accommodate that. This includes the change from buying bus tickets to hiring a bus, and expanding Eden House.

Eden House was originally conceived of as a way for Trans Rescue to both reduce costs and keep passengers safer. A shared house costs less per person than rented rooms, and there is safety in numbers. Long term accommodation is less expensive than short term, and Eden House has formed connections with the local community by buying local lumber and produce and hiring local people to help make it ready to live in. Eden House had space for 8 people when it first opened, and now can house 20.

Soon after Uganda’s latest anti-gay bill was proposed, Trans Rescue applied for a grant from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was awarded 40,000 euros to expand Eden House to a larger building with space for 30 people. It will be paid out in two 20,000 euro disbursements, and as of Thursday night it had not yet been paid out. The grant is earmarked specifically for Eden House and can’t be used for helping additional people leave Uganda, but it will ensure that they have somewhere to go when they arrive.

Prior to the current crisis, Trans Rescue’s passengers stayed at Eden House for varying lengths of time. Some had friends they could stay with and never needed Trans Rescue’s help with housing, some stay on a temporary basis while finding their feet after moving, and some stay indefinitely. (There are also passengers who stay at Eden House while waiting for a flight to a European country where they can claim asylum. Trans Rescue only attempts this when traveling this way is likely to succeed; airport staff can stop a passenger from boarding the plane if they “don’t like the look of them”, and people of some nationalities have more difficulty flying than others. Trans Rescue doesn’t currently book flights for Ugandans for this reason.) Nearly every passenger who chooses to stay at Eden House over the long term finds employment and becomes self-sustaining, paying for their share of the house’s costs.

The one-time expenses associated with one person’s stay at Eden House (bedding, settling grant, and later assistance with starting a business) are about €483 in total. Anne estimates monthly cost of living to be about €172 per person per month. She tells me it’s difficult to guess how long residents will stay, but for the sake of estimation she modeled a per-person budget in which the average resident begins earning income after 3 months and contributes 30% of their upkeep costs for months 4 - 6, then 70% for months 7-9, and after that becomes self-sustaining or moves out. Under these assumptions, the total cost of a person’s stay at Eden House would be €1257. In combination with the cost of travel from Uganda to Kenya, the total estimated cost of helping an LGBTQ+ Ugandan move is €1407.

This lines up with my own attempts to estimate Trans Rescue’s costs from the outside. According to a budget report published September 2022 and an article on accomplishments published October 2022, Trans Rescue had at the time moved 20 trans people to safety and was in the process of moving and sheltering 5 more on a budget of about 33,000 euros. Counting only the passengers who’d already arrived at their destinations, Trans Rescue spent an average of 1630 euros or less per person moved, while at the same time establishing the original Eden House. On the one hand, some of these 20 passengers were still staying at Eden House at the time of writing and were not yet self sustaining. On the other, this budget also included temporary housing in budget hotels (more expensive than Eden House) for passengers who’d fled abusive homes but could not yet leave the country, and several airline flights from the Middle East to Kenya and Europe.

Based on the budget and operations information Trans Rescue published in Autumn 2022, I think Anne’s estimate of the cost of helping an LGBTQ+ Ugandan escape and move to Kenya is accurate, and if anything on the low side. Cost of living is lower in East Africa than in the Middle East (where several of the 20 passengers Trans Rescue had moved as of 2022 departed from), and ground transportation costs less than flights. The unpredictability of a crisis scenario does tend to make operations more costly (see the 20% loss to scammers and other no-shows in the estimated cost of leaving Uganda), but due to Trans Rescue’s existing presence in Kenya, this only affects the relatively small transportation-related portion of costs.


As a basis for comparison, Give Well reports costs of about €4,600 per life saved for three of its’ four top charities. I’m really not sure how to make a good comparison between lives saved from disease and people saved homophobic violence and/or arrest in Uganda. By the estimates we have available, Trans Rescue can move a LGBTQ+ person in danger in Uganda to safety for 30% of the cost to save a life through malaria prevention. Trans Rescue also operates on a triage system, prioritizing moving people who are in the most danger first. By my estimate, the dangers faced by LGBTQ+ people remaining in Uganda are at least 30% as bad as a certainty of dying by disease, so I donated my charity budget for this year to Trans Rescue.

You should also consider donating to Trans Rescue if you want to donate to an LGBTQ+ cause specifically, while doing the most good possible within that constraint. Pride month is coming up; if your employer makes a contribution to an LGBTQ+ cause, recommending Trans Rescue would be a way to direct their donation to helping some of the world’s most marginalized queer people.





More posts like this

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

This is interesting, and I'm glad you raised it -- I agree that the information presented thus far looks promising.

The further information I would like to see:

  • How bad is it for people who aren't rescued? The content you've written does show that it can be very bad, but I'm not clear on how often it is as bad as this. I also imagine that many trans people aren't able to get an op, which presumably feeds into the dynamic about quality of life and likelihood of persecution.
  • Counterfactuals -- without trans rescue, how likely are people to escape anyway? I assume that some (low?) proportion of people would be able to escape without support. How low?
  • How much better is life for people after they have been moved? E.g. do they feel isolated from their friends and family? How easy is it for them to build a life abroad? (Kenya might have less legal basis for transphobia, but people may still be very transphobic). Are there hidden costs in the next stage? (e.g. another NGO has to help them at that stage?)
  • Room for more funding: what sort of organisational or other constraints are there on how much more money they can usefully deploy.
  • Are there operations in other countries apart from Uganda? Are those less high impact? If so, is there a risk of funging, even if the donation is restricted?

I guess the risk around hidden costs seems the cruxiest. But to be honest, I'm surprised I haven't quickly spotted more reasons why this might not be high impact. In my experience I usually can immediately spot reasons why a charity is clearly not high impact, or at least is likely to be not high impact. The fact that this charity isn't in that category seems promising.

I'm interested to learn more. Maybe we can chat?

Hi Sanjay,

I'm going to PM you Anne's email address (with her blessing), since she can answer more accurately than I can. Here's what I know that relates to your questions:

How bad is it for people who aren't rescued? - Over the longer term, I think that will depend on to what extent the current wave of homophobia eventually blows over, vs. if the proposed bill is signed into law and the police crackdown continues indefinitely. There was a similar situation in 2013 or 2014 where a homophobic bill was proposed but was found unconstitutional. This time, the president of Uganda says he will keep bringing similar bills until one sticks.

Over the short term, Trans Rescue is currently prioritizing the people in the most immediate danger because Eden House is already over capacity. (Last I spoke with Anne, they were at 22/20 people, and the building had originally been intended for eight.) Out of all the LGBTQ+ people in the country, Trans Rescue is able to help those who speak English or Arabic and have access to the internet in some form (= at least a bit privileged relative to other Ugandans), and among those they are only moving the ones in the most immediate danger. I haven't asked specifically what circumstances constitute immediate danger, but given what's happening overall, I'd imagine that means evicted without one's possessions and/or in immediate danger of mob violence or arrest (and likely abuse while in custody).

Counterfactuals -- without trans rescue, how likely are people to escape anyway? This is a really good question, and I don't know!

How much better is life for people after they have been moved? Another really good question. Anne tells me that aside from those with disabilities, long term Eden House residents have done very well at becoming financially self sustaining. Kenya does have laws on the books against gay sex, but Eden House is located in a relatively accepting part of the country. Feminizing HRT is legal in Kenya, and Eden House residents who want HRT are provided with a doctor's appointment and their medication. (I'm not clear on the legal situation of masculinizing HRT. I think Eden House might have been all female-leaning until recently.)

For trans people, transition itself often isolates a person from a lot of their friends and family, if you live in a place where most people think it's evil to be trans. I'd imagine this is probably less common for gay people (who might choose to remain closeted to some of their social circle), but then on the other hand, the gay people with the fewest positive ties left would be the most likely to want to leave Uganda. I'm sure a lot of people have someone they miss.

On the other hand, speaking as a trans person, spending time around people who accept me as my gender (= not fearing they might think I'm fake) and around other trans people (= the kind of person I am is normal!) is really good for my mental health. If a trans person is going to uproot their life and move, Eden House sounds like a pretty good sort of place to land.

Of course asking the people living at Eden House would be a much better way to find out how they're doing, than speculating how we'd feel in their shoes. Maybe Anne could ask if some of them would be willing to tell us. (Of course that's not an unbiased way of finding out - those still living at Eden House have a stake in its' continued funding. Even if they are self sufficient, their living space depends on their subsidized housemates continuing to be subsidized.)

Hidden costs: I haven't asked explicitly about other NGOs being involved. Trans Rescue is partnering with some Ugandan activists to try to fund an additional safehouse (not sure if long term or temporary), and that's the only involvement from other organizations for passengers who settle in Kenya, that I've heard of.

I don't know as much about the Middle East -> Kenya -> EU pathway. (Trans Rescue isn't currently taking on passengers outside Uganda because there's so much going on there right now. They don't try to send Ugandans to Europe because there is too much risk they wouldn't be allowed to board the flight.) I get the sense Trans Rescue knows some Europeans willing to host trans refugees temporarily. Trans Rescue doesn't financially support passengers while they are in Europe, so I think they must reach out to other organizations for help getting on their feet.

Room for more funding: Most of Trans Rescue's current funding comes from one-off sources in response to the current crisis. (The government grant, a loan from a donor to help them bridge the gap until the grant money arrive(s/d, not sure if they got it yet), and around 10k from a donor who doesn't anticipate being able to contribute at that level in the future.) They're currently funding-constrained on being able to house people, and they're not able to move everyone who wants to leave because of it. At one point they were hiring a bus and transporting several people every day, and they could do it again if they could afford more living space for passengers to stay in on arrival.

Other Operations: Trans Rescue has helped trans people leave Middle Eastern countries in the past, which is more expensive because airfare is involved and temporarily housing people in their home countries until their flights costs more than housing them at Eden House. They aren't currently taking on new Middle Eastern passengers so that they can focus attention and funding on helping Ugandans, but I know of at least two Middle Eastern passengers who will require three flights to get to Europe where they can claim asylum. (Kenya -> Europe raises fewer flags as an itinerary because of Kenya's tourism industry than Middle East -> Europe.) Trans Rescue also provides information for trans people in wealthy Western countries who anticipate needing to leave, but doesn't spend money on this or provide financial support currently.

You could talk to them about earmarking a donation specifically for operations in East Africa. (A few Ugandan passengers go to Rawanda instead of Kenya - I haven't asked why, I assume they live near that border and/or have friends in Rawanda who can help them. Trans Rescue also moves people within Kenya. Their cheapest extraction ever was a 30 euro taxi ride and bus ticket for a Kenyan trans man who's old neighbors were going to stone him as a witch.)

Not another dime to these people, the Safe House in Kenya (Eden House) has been raided. The people who were there were sexually assaulted, tortured, and worse. This information can be confirmed on Trans Rescue's Mastodon page or twitter. https://twitter.com/Trans_Rescue/status/1666848794686763026 

Further more Eden House was raided shortly after Anne Ogborn, Trans Rescue's owner and operator invited the Associated Press to film the safe house, as well as conduct interviews with the very hostile neighbors. There is no other way of looking at this, Trans Rescue doxxed their own safe house. Pictures of the members of Eden House can still be found on the trans rescue website as "fundraising material" - its enough to make anyone sick to their stomach

No more money for these neo-colonialist exploiters


Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities