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Trans Teenager Has Fled Brunei to Seek Refuge in Canada

Zoella Zayce

Zoella Zayce says she didn't feel safe in her home nation due to its anti-LGBTQ laws and culture.

A transgender teenager from Brunei is seeking asylum in Canada, as she fears retribution under draconian laws recently enacted by her home nation.

Zoella Zayce, now 19, came to Canada last year. She has known she was transgender since she was a child, she told Reuters, but she never came out to her conservative family.

Relatives and friends often asked if she was gay, "an alarming question" in Brunei, the news service notes. In 2014 it began rolling out harsh laws based on an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam; one that went into effect this month prescribes death by stoning as a punishment for gay sex.

When she was 11 or 12, her family subjected her to an exorcism. "I was traumatized," she recalled. A few years ago she heard people were being jailed for cross-dressing, so she made plans to leave Brunei. She chose Canada because of its liberalism and its great distance from the Southeast Asian nation.

"[Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau was very accepting of people fleeing their countries, so that was one of the major things as well," she told Reuters.

Zayce has a full-time data entry job in Vancouver, and she supplements that with work as a math tutor. She would like to study computer science, and she hopes to meet a boyfriend.

She would like to see nations around the world impose sanctions on Brunei, an action she thinks would influence the country to change its laws. If Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah were to abdicate, Brunei might become a free, secular nation, she said.

Zayce has applied for asylum in Canada, and she may receive a decision as early as November. Even if her application is denied, she said, she has at least made her voice heard.

"I just want to let the world know that if I do get sent back to Brunei, I wouldn't mind dying back there," she said tearfully. "If I do go back, I would have at least lived a good life ... on my own terms."

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