This fundraiser is helping queer and trans flood victims in Pakistan

A GoFundMe is trying to fill the gap left by mainstream non-profits 

Hafsa Arain, a PhD candidate in anthropology at Boston University studying queer and trans communities in Karachi, was finishing up a year of fieldwork in Pakistan when the floods started late last summer. Once they were back home, it became clear that the flooding was worse than they initially expected. The floods killed over 1,700 people and left millions homeless, hitting the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan the hardest. Arain was keeping in touch with their friends and the queer networks they had built through their time in Pakistan, and they expressed a specific concern for queer and trans people living in rural areas. 

Many of Arain’s contacts in Karachi—who have access to more support and resources than those who live in rural areas—wanted to help. Suman Valeecha, founder of  the Pakistani trans rights organization ACTCEPT and Firdous Chowdri-Gaewalla, a Karachi-based activist, set up a project to distribute funds in rural areas. Asrain felt confident that they could reach out their networks in Canada and the United States to help with disaster relief, and started a GoFundMe for queer and trans flood victims on Sept. 6. The money raised is mostly intended to help people with food rations, clothing and shelter, although recipients receive a direct cash transfer that they can use as they see fit. More than a hundred people have received donations so far, which are distributed via ACTCEPT once Arain wires the money.

Arain’s original involvement with fundraising efforts was going to be focused on providing immediate aid to queer and trans flood victims, but they soon realized they could reach a much larger number of people. “Initially, we thought we would just need something like $4,000 or $5,000. And now we’re at $11,000 raised, which has been really, really amazing,” says Arain. 

Many mainstream non-profits have also been reluctant to provide aid to queer and trans locals, Arain notes. “A lot of this probably has to do with a kind of middle-class morality that comes into play in terms of how these NGOs operate, who they’re held accountable to, who gives them money and what those donors expect the money to be used for,” explains Arain. Many queer and trans people in Pakistan work in stigmatized and precarious professions, like sex work and alms collection (receiving charity), they add, which is also one of the reasons they have been disproportionately affected by the flooding. 


Arain explains that the the destruction halted regular routines, and effectively stopped sex workers, mujra (a form of dance that dates back to pre-colonial India and is now considered by many as “vulgar” or “hypersexualized”) dancers and alms collectors from having a source of income. Moreover, queer and trans people in Pakistan have difficulty accessing healthcare. Trans women often also, either by choice or by force, live away from their family’s homes. Many live in collective houses, which according to Arain, are more rare in rural areas. 

“If one of the central housing structures in a small town in Pakistan where trans women are welcome is destroyed, then it’s displaced a whole number of people. And it means that there are a lot of resources that might have existed collectively, that are really difficult for individuals to get on their own,” says Arain, adding that trans women are also often excluded from women-only shelters in Pakistan. “We’ve been trying our best to use this money to make sure that these collective homes stay within the community, and that they can be repaired.” 

Some of these collective homes have long histories, having housed trans women for hundreds of years. Saving them has been a priority for the fundraiser. Chowdri-Gaewalla, one of the fundraiser’s co-organizers, visited three of these homes as part of the fundraising efforts. Since early September 2022, they have been working with a team of volunteers and ACTCEPT to share the donations with queer and trans people, travelling to rural Sindh and building a network to find people in need of donations. One of their main goals has been building trust with queer and trans communities in Sindh.

“There are some unique challenges when it comes to [working with] Indigenous queer persons. The trust deficit is massive,” says Chowdri-Gaewalla. Multiple recipients they met told them that this was the first time they felt someone was doing something for them. When a stranger from Karachi calls someone to tell them they’ll be sending 10,000 rupees (roughly CAD $165), they aren’t likely to believe them, they add. That’s why recipients were only asked to provide video documentation of flood damage on a voluntary basis, especially given privacy concerns. Chowdri-Gaewalla has also been making an active effort to maintain the trust they’ve built with local queer and trans communities, making sure to reach out to recipients and not disappear once they get the cash transfers. This lack of follow-up, Chowdri-Gaewalla says, is common with the development sector. 

These fundraising efforts, Arain notes, have been taking place during a heightened sense of transphobia in Pakistan right now. Conservative lawmakers are targeting the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2018, which protects the rights of trans people and prohibits discrimination. “I don’t think that this [increased hostility to trans people] can entirely be separated from things like flood relief, or things like climate disaster, which Pakistan is at the forefront of internationally. When you get these kinds of mass-scale disasters, where over 30 million people are displaced, people look for ideological scapegoats, and trans people have unfortunately been at the other end of that. It’s just really scary, I think, for a lot of trans people at the moment in Pakistan.” 

Now that the GoFundMe has surpassed its initial goal, the fundraiser organizers are hoping their work can be developed into a longer-term project, using the connections they’ve built through this campaign to create sustainable solutions to the issues queer and trans people face from climate diasters. But this round has already made an impact. On their page, they’ve shared messages of thanks from recipients: “Your help is giving us some peace,” reads one. “For all of those who have given from around the world, we thank you so much,” reads another. 

Sara Hashemi is a writer and fact-checker based in Tiohti:àke (Montreal). Her work explores environmental justice, sustainability, culture and the arts and the intersections between these topics. Sara speaks English and French.

Keep Reading

Job discrimination against trans and non-binary people is alive and well

OPINION: A study reveals that we have a long way to go to reach workplace equality for trans and non-binary people

The new generation of gay Conservative sellouts

OPINION: Melissa Lantsman’s and Eric Duncan’s refusals to call out their party’s transphobia is a betrayal of the LGBTQ2S+ community

Over 300 anti-LGBTQ2S+ bills have been introduced this year. This doesn’t mean we should panic

OPINION: While it’s important to watch out for threats, not all threats are created equally. Some of these bills will die a natural death

Xtra’s top LGBTQ2S+ stories of the year

The best and brightest—even most bewildering—stories from a back catalogue brimming with insight