By Anisa de Jong
Despite the criticisms of where we are at with our rights and dignity in the UK (the media; homophobia in schools; the police; healthcare), we must also recognise how much safer our lives are compared to the lives of many LGBT people elsewhere.
Homosexuality is illegal in 80 countries and in five of these the death penalty can apply. Even more widespread is the violence, humiliation, inequality and discrimination experienced by many LGBT’s within their own communities and families, without any available protection.
Most LGBT’s stay in their countries: some force themselves to conform, some get killed, some hide, and some stand up for their rights and their dignity at great risk. Only a tiny percentage of LGBT’s worldwide come to the UK to seek a safe haven; UKLGIG assists hundreds of them each year with their asylum application.
And support they need, as the problems they face are enormous. After a traumatic journey, they must face - often hostile – Border Agency officials. They are expected to ‘come out’ and tell them all about their private lives in a consistent manner, including about rape, forced marriage and the loss of loved ones. Those who require a bit more time to be able to talk about such things, especially after a life of secrecy and shame, are likely to be refused as they are ‘not believed’.
In other cases, asylum applicants are told that they are not at a ‘real risk’ of persecution in their home country as long as they remain ‘discreet’. In a recent statement on the Labourlist, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas’ claimed that “It is not our policy to require gay men or lesbians to be discreet about their sexuality”. However, he does acknowledge that that “the person’s previous behaviour” is a factor in considering whether they are at ‘real risk’. As a result, LGBT asylum seekers are often told that if they kept quiet or secretive about their sexuality or gender identity before, they can go back and do so again.
Moreover, the level of ‘discretion’ required in order to avoid harm is dependent on the “social norms and religious beliefs of their country of origin”. In many of the asylum applicant’s home countries, a same sex relationship or not conforming to a prescribed gender role (no matter how privately), is often - in and of itself - considered ‘indecent’!
Whilst awaiting a decision on their application, LGBT asylum seekers are often isolated and destitute: they face racism and prejudice in the LGBT community and are rejected by the communities from their home countries. Many are also put in detention facing homophobia and bullying whilst awaiting a decision, and some are ‘removed’ back to their home countries.
Nevertheless, after long legal struggles and much support, many LGBT asylum applicants do get acknowledged as refugees and are allowed to stay in the UK. Let’s just try to make the journey a little bit easier.