02/27/2018 08:49 EST | Updated 02/27/2018 09:03 EST

Trans Refugee Says 'Never Give Up' After 12th Year In Canada

Biko Beauttah is an inspiration to us all.

Mark Blinch / Reuters
Biko Beauttah.

Biko Beauttah, organizer of the Trans Workforce in Toronto, is celebrating her 12-year anniversary of arriving in Canada.

Beauttah moved to Toronto in 2006, seeking asylum as a refugee from Kenya, according to CBC News. Since then, she's made a name for herself as a human rights activist.

Beauttah took to Twitter Monday morning to write, "Today marks my 12th anniversary since I arrived in Canada seeking asylum as a refugee. Best [advice] I can give, 'Never ever EVER give up.'"

To help mark this remarkable anniversary here are five incredible things about Beauttah.

1. Beauttah left Kenya because she is transgender

Toronto Star via Getty Images
Biko Beauttah is a trans rights activist, a Kenyan refugee and Pride Toronto board member.

Born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya, Beauttah left her home at age 26 after being perceived as a criminal, she told CBC.

"It is not safe for me to live there as a trans person because I could be killed ... It's illegal to be who I am in Kenya ... I'm considered a criminal basically just by being me," Beauttah said.

In Kenya, homosexual acts are illegal, costing up to 14 years in prison, BBC News has reported. There are also reports of attacks on LGBTQ+ people by mobs in Kenya's coastal region. A 70-page report published by PEMA Kenya and Human Rights Watch in 2015 detailed several incidents of violence or threats of violence.

"While police treatment of LGBT people has improved in recent years, discrimination remains a major problem. LGBT peoples' justified fear of reporting hate crimes to the police means that violence continues with impunity," Esther Adhiambo, executive director of PEMA Kenya, said to Human Rights Watch.

Last year, the High Court of Kenya awarded five transgender women approximately $374,000 after the government refused them name changes.

2. When Beauttah arrived in Canada she only had $200 in her pocket

Matthew Simmons via Getty Images
Biko Beauttah during 31st Annual Toronto International Film Festival - 'The Perverts Guide to Cinema' Party in Toronto, Canada.

Beauttah left behind her wealthy family, entering into Canada with what CBC reported was only $200.

Her first six months in Toronto were spent at a refugee shelter. The next 11 years she sought employment, sometimes turning to sex work to pay rent, she told CBC.

"The barriers all result from a society that is probably not educated, ignorant or just transphobic, and I don't know why, but it's a struggle for trans people," Beauttah said to CBC.

In 2015, 30 per cent of LGBT Canadians reported that they experienced workplace discrimination, according to the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. Heterosexual men and women reported far fewer experiences with discrimination — 2.9 per cent versus 29.1 per cent for LGBT Canadians.

In the same year, the Ontario Trans Pulse Project reported 13 per cent of trans Ontarians were fired for being trans. Another 18 per cent said they were denied employment for being trans. And 28 per cent of trans Ontarians were unable to receive job references because the references did not use their current name or pronoun.

3. She organized a career event for transgender people

In #TheSituationRoom with my A-Team from the #TransYouth program at @the519.

A post shared by Biko Beauttah (@bikodesigns) on

In November 2017, at age 37, Beauttah organized the Trans Workforce, aimed at placing trans people into the workplace. It is described as a career and networking event for transgender people on the event's Twitter page. The 23 employers present included Indigo, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Apple Canada, Parks Canada, Vice Canada, and the Canadian Armed Forces.

At the time of the event, Beauttah faced criticism and calls for it to be shut down, CBC reported. The Toronto-based trans rights group, Transroots Toronto, deemed the presence of the military to be "violent," given what they called mistreatment of trans people at the hands of the military. Beauttah's father served in the Kenyan military, she told CBC, which is why the invitation was made.

Despite this, the event carried on at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

"I'm hoping to inspire some other trans people who maybe can see themselves at a low point in their life and realize that all you need is an idea and people to support you to change the world," Beauttah said to CBC.

More than 250 people attended the event, reported Macleans.

4. She works from the outside in to establish change

Beauttah sits on the Board of Directors at both Pride Toronto, where she sits on the executive board, and The 519, an agency in Toronto that provides inclusive spaces and services for LGBTQ+ people.

She also attended George Brown College, where she majored in Jewellery Arts. While there, she acted as the representative for the Centre for Women and Trans People, where she worked to bridge the gaps between the college administration and student association.

Beauttah also was one of the first trans women of African descent to open the Toronto Stock Exchange in June 2016. Beauttah wrote on Facebook, "LGBT History. Canada, where your wildest dreams become reality."

5. Beauttah has a kickass style and presence

Beauttah has caught a few eyes thanks to her style, whether it's her wide-set smile, afro that stretches to the skies, or her colourful fashion choices.

In 2009 she was crowned Toronto Life's best dressed person in the city, and was featured in Flare for her colourfully traditional ensemble at Toronto Fashion Week in 2013.

And lest we forget her waving the LGBTQ+ flag during Toronto Pride as she marched beside Prime Minister Trudeau.

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