This is Hiba’s story.

“For as long as I can remember, I felt trapped in the wrong body.”

Hiba grew up in a loving family in Pakistan, and always felt care and support from her mother and brother who gave her space to be who she is, to express herself and to live freely.

Yet the extreme social stigma and harsh anti- LGBTQ+ laws in Pakistan made life incredibly difficult for Hiba, even from a very young age. She still remembers the first time she experienced persecution and violence at age 5, which was just the first of countless incidences of violence she encountered for being a transwoman, both in her home country of Pakistan and once she’d reached what she thought would be safety in the UK.

“I was standing in line at mosque and didn’t know what to do. So, I joined the girls and sat down, hoping to be accepted. Then I felt a hard thud in my back, before being dragged away by my hair and beaten.”

Hiba’s teenage years only became more difficult with Hiba attending over 20 schools in total in order to complete her education.

Despite this, Hiba was enveloped in safety, love and protection by her mother and brother and enjoyed a happy childhood in the privacy of her home.

In 2016, as an adult, Hiba finally received the diagnosis she had known all along. She had gender dysphoria and was able to start hormone treatment. Despite societal pressures, her brother’s support for her never dwindled:

By this time, Hiba had established a successful career in filmmaking and producing in Pakistan, a job she loved and excelled at, but which would put her at further risk of abuse. Those in positions of power in Pakistan disliked both the LGBTQ+ community and journalists and the media – making Hiba a prime target. When her employer discovered she was trans, they were extremely angry.

It wasn’t long before she started to receive anonymous threats detailing how they have appointed someone to shoot and kill her, before losing her job entirely. The threats escalated rapidly, including targeting Hiba’s family, and at age 34, her brother was brutally murdered for protecting her. To this day, the authorities have failed to investigate, citing his death as a mere ‘accident’. For Hiba, this is the moment she lost everything –

“My best buddy, my lifeline, my protection – gone.”

Hiba was forced into hiding, knowing she was no longer safe to live in her home that she had shared with her brother. She lived in hiding for some time, moving often and sofa-surfing with friends to avoid the authorities, but the threats continued to arrive no matter how often she moved or changed her number.

Soon after Hiba lost her brother, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Despite desperate pleas to hospitals and medical professionals, her mother was often refused treatment for supporting her daughter. Hiba was unable to visit her mother, often receiving threats saying the hospital was being watched and she would be killed if she tried to visit. Sadly, Hiba’s mother passed away without Hiba by her side to say goodbye. It was then she knew she had to leave Pakistan –

“I had nobody left, I had to leave before I was killed”

Hiba arrived in the UK in 2021, believing that the UK would be a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community like her. She had spent her school years reading about the United Kingdom and dreaming of living in a society in which people are free to be themselves and to live with happiness, dignity and safety. Arriving in the UK was a relief, even though she arrived with just the clothes she was wearing and no idea of where to go or what to do.

But she was safe, far from those wanting to kill her. However, the weight of her grief, continued fear and depression took its toll. Hiba was diagnosed with PTSD and spent some time in hospital to recover.

It has been almost two years since Hiba first claimed asylum in the UK and she is still waiting for her substantial interview. During this time, Hiba has been homeless due to miscommunication between the Home Office and the accommodation provider. Despite being forced onto the streets and the stress caused, Hiba was simply told ‘you can have access to your room now’ once the miscommunication was resolved.

Hiba has also suffered abuse and bullying from staff in Home Office accommodation because of her gender identity, including persistent and intentional misgendering. On one occasion, a male member of staff entered her room without knocking whilst she was asleep in bed and started making fun of her for being a trans-woman.

Despite the ongoing challenges Hiba faces whilst she is waiting for her claim to be decided, she isn’t letting this hold her back. She is creating a community for herself. One of these is at Women for Refugee Women’s Rainbow Sisters – a solidarity group for lesbian, bisexual and trans-women and non-binary people seeking asylum –

“I have found a home. Rainbow Sisters is a healing space for me, it helps improve my confidence and my skills. I am with my people.”

When asked her dreams for the future, Hiba simply says:

“I just want to be a normal human being. I want freedom of life. I want to belong, just like everybody else.”