'Her story is for all of us': Saudi protesters call for justice for Eden Knight
Dozens of friends and supporters of a Saudi transgender woman who killed herself this month after she said her parents lured her home and pressured her to detransition, protested in front of the Saudi embassy in London on Friday.
Eden Knight, 23, was studying computer science at George Mason University in Virginia when she came out as transgender during the Covid-19 pandemic and started to transition.
'She is like one of us. Her story is for all of us'
- Naomi Swift, Saudi transgender activist
But she returned to the kingdom after she said a US security firm and a Saudi lawyer hired by her parents left her dependent on the lawyer while pressuring her to detransition.
"I subconsciously gave up. I was too tired. I did everything he asked. I cut my hair. I stopped taking estrogen. I changed my wardrobe," she wrote in a final note posted to Twitter on 12 March.
Back home, Knight said she struggled to continue transitioning as her family searched her belongings and monitored her closely, calling her "a freak" and "an abomination".
Stay informed with MEE's newsletters
Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked
"I didn't want to live if I couldn't transition," she said. "They have found my HRT [hormone replacement therapy] again, and I am done fighting."
Her family reportedly posted the details of her funeral on Twitter, misgendering her and using her deadname with an account that has since been deleted.
'We know we are Saudi'
Knight's story has gained widespread attention and highlighted the challenges faced by Saudi Arabia's LGBTQ+ community. There are no written laws on LGBTQ+ rights, but courts can use opaque laws to sanction homosexual and queer acts as immoral or unnatural, with sentences including imprisonment, flogging and even execution.
The arbitrariness of the judicial system can also make it difficult to distinguish between a sanction based on these acts or because a law has been broken, say experts. For example, expressing one's sexual orientation online can be prosecuted under the anti-cybercrime law.
'You can't come as you are. You can't be with who you love'
- Ian, Saudi protester
Beyond the legal peril this leaves LGBTQ+ Saudis in, Saudi transgender protesters on Friday said they were forced to hide their identities both in public and from their families for years while living in the kingdom, another reason they were demonstrating.
"You can't come as you are. You can't be with who you love," said Ian, a Saudi transgender man who declined to give his last name for his safety. "Most Saudi people will say we aren't Saudi. But we know we are Saudi."
Ian didn't know Eden but could relate to her story of being lured home from abroad. He said he has received messages from his family since he sought asylum in the UK.
Sometimes, he said, they say they will "be better". Other times, they threaten to kill him. He has given screenshots to police in the UK but says he still has to remind himself regularly that his windows have metal bars.
"I hope they will block them from the UK," he said of his family.
Many protesters said they had come to know Eden after she posted a before-and-after photo documenting her transition that went viral. It was that photo that pushed Naomi Swift, a transgender Saudi woman, to contact Eden.
Over the past six months, they traded stories about hormone therapy - which protesters said are not available in the kingdom - and memes that made each other laugh. "She is like one of us. Her story is for all of us," Swift said.
Swift said she sought asylum in the UK after she fled her family home when a relative attempted to shoot her. A Saudi flag was draped across her shoulders. "I'm proud to be Saudi and I'm proud to be queer," she said.
Several protesters wore masks, hoods and other items that disguised their identities. They said that although they feel free in the UK to be open and out, they still fear retribution from the Saudi government over their protests.
"Us being here, it's very dangerous," said a Saudi transgender man who declined to be named. "We can't save Eden. We can't go back. But we want to hold them accountable."
Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.