We live in a world where out of 204 countries where the information is available, a total of 77 countries (50 for lesbians) carry some form of punishment for homosexuality. 9 of them are known to still carry the death penalty. Prison sentences are common (8 carry life imprisonment).
When people face this kind of homophobia, it is no wonder that they come to Australia to escape. Associate professor Jenni Millbank has identified 200 cases of people seeking asylum in Australia on the basis of homophobic persecution between 1996 and 2000.
Coming out is hard enough in Sydney, the home of Mardi Gras, but imagine coming out to the Refugee Review Tribunal when your life is on the line. Until recently, refugees fleeing from homophobic persecution were not even considered for asylum in this country. The case that overturned this involved a Bangladeshi couple. They fled Bangladesh when they were attacked by a homophobic mob and their families disowned them. They were housed in separate compounds in Villawood detention centre – because they were queer they didn’t count as a couple. They were told by the Refugee Review Tribunal that if they returned to Bangladesh they could be discreet about their sexuality to avoid persecution. But the high court ruled in their favour and now queer refugees can seek asylum in this country.
But that is not the end of the story – now queer refugees are denied asylum if they cannot prove they are gay. Even if refugees can prove they were tortured by homophobes, they are being denied asylum if they can’t prove they are gay. And the Refugee Review Tribunal has some strange ideas of what it means to be gay – one man from Iran was denied asylum because he hadn’t heard of Madonna.
The refugee rights movement had some important victories last year. Let's keep fighting until we win. Stand up for queer refugees. Come to Villawood detention centre on the 15th of April to protest.