Non-binary asylum seeker who won landmark appeal to stay in UK recalls horrific beating at hands of police
A non-binary artist who won a landmark asylum appeal to stay in the UK says they are “one of the lucky ones” after revealing they survived a police beating in El Salvador.
The 29-year-old, who came to the UK in 2017 after several of their LGBT+ friends were murdered, was beaten up by a group of police officers in El Salvador who told them “now we will teach you how to be a man”.
Their asylum claim said that gay and transgender people in El Salvador, including five of their friends, are routinely kidnapped, tortured and killed, and bodies are sometimes found with their genitals removed.
In November, they were granted asylum on the basis that they would face persecution for their gender identity if returned to El Salvador.
The citizen, referred to in court as Mx M, is non-binary, but the judge concluded they would be perceived as a transgender woman and persecuted on that basis. It was the first time an English court expressly ruled that being non-binary can be grounds for asylum.
“The judge turned to me and started speaking in Spanish, which is my first language. I didn’t know she spoke Spanish,” Mx M told the Liverpool Echo.
“She told me she wanted to let me know in my own language that she accepted my asylum claim. She said I have the right to be in the UK, I have the right to be free and I have the right to be who I want to be.
“It was a highlight of my life, I started crying. Because that is when I knew I could have all the opportunities that were denied to me in El Salvador.”
In 2017, the UN called for a probe into unprecedented violence against trans women in El Salvador.
Describing the police officers who attacked them, they said: “It came from nowhere. I was walking on the street, I had my hair blonde, and I was with my bag from studying.
“I walked through the city centre and they were by the cathedral. There was a group of them, and they called me over, they said ‘come here’.
“They said, ‘are you gay?’, and I didn’t answer. They used discriminatory language for LGBTQ people in Spanish. I didn’t answer, but then one moment they started making fun of my hair.
“They asked why do you have your hair blonde? And then I answered, ‘because I like it’.
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“Then they got really mad, one of them hit me in the chest with an open palm and it knocked my breath away. Then one of them said ‘now we are going to show you how to be a man.”
Alex says around five officers began attacking them, raining down punches and kicks as they curled into a ball on the ground.
They added: “Before I decided to leave two consecutive friends were murdered, and it is like what is happening? I don’t really know the details, but one of them just left his house one day and never came home.
“They found his body a few days later in a really bad way, like he had been tortured.”
The non-binary artist’s asylum claim was twice refused by English courts.
At an Upper Tribunal appeal in 2019, the judge criticised the previous decisions in the case, pointing out that a relevant judgement, which establishes the principle that certain identities constitute innate characteristics that people cannot be expected to change, had not been referred to when it was clearly relevant.