A transgender woman from Chechnya who was granted asylum in the US is putting her life at risk by campaigning for other Chechens facing the risk of anti-LGBT persecution to be let into the country.
Leyla, whose details have been kept limited to protect her, told the Washington Post how she faced persecution from her family, friends and authorities because of her identity.
For a long time, Leyla tried to conceal her gender identity while living in Chechnya. However, she eventually moved to a close by region before moving to Moscow so she could begin to live more truthful to herself.
However, she was abused, harassed, attacked by family members who felt she brought “shame” on the family.
Things escalated until she was left for dead after a stabbing attack.
After waking up, Leyla was told that she should not file a police report because it was likely she would have to return to Chechnya for a court date as they believed it was a family member who attacked her.
She then contacted trans support groups who advised that she flee the country and so Leyla took a flight with another trans friend to Mexico.
She made it across the Mexican border after being dropped off in the middle of nowhere into the US only knowing one word of English – “asylum”.
The pair were actually aiming for Argentina but they were quickly picked up by US Border Patrol, and Leyla was so shocked by their kind treatment that they decided to apply for US asylum.
“The first thing they said to me was, ‘Ma’am, could you please show me your passport?’ ” she said. “Their behaviour showed me I was in the country that respects my rights.”
Just last week, she was finally granted asylum after weeks of fighting to be protected.
It was uncovered that the US has not been granting visas to Chechen immigrants, nor has President Donald Trump condemned the violence against the LGBT community.
The lengthy battle Leyla encountered in trying to obtain a visa has made her want to fight for other Chechens still facing persecution in the region.
She is now one of a group of activists who visited the White House, the State Department and Congress to recount their own abuses.
However, Leyla is putting herself at risk by sharing these accounts as she has only been granted a 15-month stay and could be deported.
She also fears her family members at home could be persecuted.
However, she is thankful for the temporary fix and has pledged the time to help others.
“I am very thankful for this one year and three months in the United States, as it made me feel like a human being,” she said. “A human being who has rights — and the power to change something.”