Iman Le Caire: The Humanitarian Saving Transgender Asylum Seekers
The story of Cairo-born transgender activist Iman Le Caire’s childhood is nothing short of harrowing. “Strangers, neighbours and even members of my family were molesting me,” she says. Shockingly, she was made to feel responsible for the abuse. “They saw me as a ‘sin’ child. They thought I was the one attracting people towards me because I was ‘feminine’.” Incredibly, she has been able to use this horrific start in life for the good of others by setting up Trans Asylias – an organisation that assists trans asylum seekers, many of whom are fleeing life-threatening situations.
Le Caire herself fled her family when she was 15. But her situation didn’t change overnight. Describing it as “a horrible time”, she recalls moving between sleeping at other queer friends’ places and sleeping on the street. Things began to look up when she joined a dance workshop at the Cairo Opera House and thereafter became a dancer and choreographer.
“Making music videos for [Moroccan-Egyptian singer] Samira Said is how I started making money, and my life started getting better.” However, the violence, persecution and arrests based on her sexual orientation did not. “There was so much police harassment, and I was scared,” admits Le Caire. “I wanted to leave [the country] so badly.” In 2008, her tourist visa to New York came through. It changed everything. “When I was entering the airport [in Cairo], I saw the police and I thought they were going to arrest me. Once the plane took off, this scream came out of me – I was so happy.”
After overcoming a drug addiction brought on by the trauma of her past, Le Caire now fights for trans people’s rights, galvanised even further by 2020’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement. “I left Cairo and I came here [to the US], and now this is happening? Transsexuals are being killed? Over my dead body,” she says.
Le Caire now dreams of “a healing home” for trans people, which will include not just doctors and therapists but also a loving community. “There,” she says with a smile, “they will have everything they need.”
Noran Morsi is a freelance journalist based in New York City, with Cairo roots. She’s an MFA candidate at New York University’s literary reportage programme and a YouTube journalism fellow