David D

123 karmaJoined Working (6-15 years)Europe


Just some guy, I've read EA's writing but haven't been involved in any organizations.

You'll see me talk about Trans Rescue (transrescue.org) a lot. I'm a donor and might volunteer with them if an opportunity arose, but am otherwise not affiliated.


I’m here posting about Trans Rescue again because I think the price of life and safety in Uganda for LGBT+ people is about to get horrifyingly low. For the past several months, a proposed crackdown on gay Ugandans has caused sudden evictions and mob violence to a level that many LGBT+ Ugandans fled the country. Uganda’s president has just signed the new laws, criminalizing merely identifying as gay or renting a home to a gay person, and instituting the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”. Trans Rescue anticipates an even greater wave of violence in the wake of this news.

Trans Rescue’s past experience helping transgender Africans move to safety in neighboring Kenya has positioned them as the organization best able to help. They have local contacts and are used to working in the area, and they’re already practiced at differentiating between scammers and people who really need help. They were one of the first organizations to get involved in this situation, and I believe they are still the best positioned to help Ugandans evacuate.

Trans Rescue has run almost completely out of funds. They don’t have the funds to do anything beyond keeping the current residents of their safe house fed and housed, and they’re receiving calls from LGBT+ Ugandans who’ve been attacked by their neighbors already and desperately need to leave, and in some cases already have a friend or family member they can stay with in a safer place, all they need is a $30 bus ticket.

Any small donation Trans Rescue receives right now will go towards helping these people who just need one small thing to get to a safe place. I believe that Trans Rescue’s normal operations (which include assistance with housing and starting a business at a higher cost per person) are also cost effective. Right now, the worsening crisis and Trans Rescue’s current lack of funds make the cost to save a life abnormally low for any intervention to help currently living humans.

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.)

Answer by David D2

I had the opportunity to talk to one of the board members of Trans Rescue and wrote a post with some additional information, focusing on their operations in East Africa helping LGBTQ+ Ugandans of all sorts escape the wave of homophobic violence happening there. https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/zC5CNAv8dCMyhtxW2/trans-rescue-s-operations-in-uganda-high-impact-giving

I would absolutely love to see the result of vetting from someone more experienced than myself (that is, experienced at all). I've been out of the loop for a while - is EA Funds the main EA grantmaker, or are there others too?

Given the low amount of funding overall, I suspect board members or volunteers might be contributing to the organization's operating expenses in a way that isn't tracked, which could substantially change the equation. The financial report they published was focused on proving they were using donations for the stated purpose, and not really intended for an efficiency evaluation.

These are all great points; thank you for raising them.

Aside from the Kenyan clients (who don't leave their country and instead get a safer place to stay and help finding jobs in a safer part of their own country), they ultimately get settled as refugees facing persecution.

Thank you so much for this thoughtful and encouraging answer.

These are good things to think about. I'll see if I can find any research on migration in general. I get the sense most of Trans Rescue's clients didn't have good family relationships before moving, which does change the equation some, but it's a starting point for which research probably exists.

I'll try to post if I do any analysis that's worth posting. I'll also look deeper into EA forum and see if I can find advice for approaching small, young organizations like this. (On my to-do list is asking them if they'd benefit from a donation specifically earmarked for administrative use, a savings buffer for emergencies, or other things that would help the mission but look unappealing to the average donor.)

It occurs to me that an important question I haven't yet asked, is if the organization's accounting of their funds includes everything they spend on helping people relocate, or if board members and/or volunteers are also paying out of pocket for things related to the organization's mission. I need to figure out how to ask that tactfully.

I may have switched from replying to thinking out loud somewhere in there. Thank you again for your advice and for taking the time to read and offer encouragement.

Ok. I'll keep you posted if I find out anything else.

Answer by David D4

Hi BG,

Funny that we were thinking the same thing at the same time. I also want to donate to a voting rights organization, but I'm feeling kind of lost as to how to evaluate them.

If we're looking at the US, my gut is saying to focus on voter turnout rather than voting method (winner take all vs. runoff vs. plurality, etc) because changing our voting method seems like it's a long way off, and my biggest concern about voting rights and elections is that we might fall into a negative feedback loop within the next decade.

At a quick glance, the Brennan Center looks promising in that they're focused on a relatively narrow set of issues, whereas with ACLU or NCAAP a donation could end up going toward a non-voting-related program.

Vote.org (mentioned here https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/s/dmz4gd3hJyrhHgjrM/p/8cr7godn8qN9wjQYj#Elections_and_voting) could also be worth a look.

I'm going to see what information I can find on evaluating political and lobbying organizations in general. I'm hopeful there might be some applicable information out there, even if I can't turn up any analysis on voting rights specifically.