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Monday, 19 July 2010

Supremes decision implications: next, the world?

By Godwyns Onwuchekwa

The recent judgement by the UK Supreme court refusing the UK government from removing two gay men from Cameroun and Iran back to their respective country on the premise that they can live discreetly, sent our rippling shouts of joy across the UK and the world. So unique was the judgement that LGBTI activists, non-activists and many other people who has never supported – nor thought it matters – all joined to celebrate this assumed landmark judgement. Obviously, it was.

Gay men and women, transgendered and Intersex people continue to face endless persecution. This increases to extreme frustration as they seek shelter in supposedly progressive countries like the UK only for their hope of safety to be met with rejection. But gay men, lesbians and transsexuals worldwide live in daily violations of their rights to freedom (of expression) and dignity both from their countries and places like UK. This is a complete disregard of the dignity of life and the right to a private life for these people.

Homosexuality is a criminal offence in more than 80 member-countries of the United Nations, while in at least seven nations plus parts of Nigeria, including Saudi Arabia, sex between men can be punished with the death penalty.

But the UK continue to say to gay people to go back to these countries to ‘live discretely’; this is not only ridiculous, it is an insensitive opposite of what the British society stands and has always been known to represent.

Before going any further, let us consider a little what it means to ‘live discretely’. If you are a gay man or woman and live in Mauritania, Somalia, Nigeria, etc, you would less likely tell someone of the same sex that you feel attracted to them… that may sound like a fudge; yet it could be complicated beyond just being considered a nutter.


You would not access healthcare for specific health issues that affect gay people; nor would you feel safe being ‘single’ without a form of heterosexual relationship to make everyone else believe you are not gay. The list goes on.

Let us take for instance that you get into work on a Monday morning, your colleagues would freely say what they did over the weekend with their opposite sex partners, but you would be watching every word you speak and even LIE about what you did because you do not want to mention that you spent your weekend with a same sex partner.

With the above environment, you can tell what the consequences could be. A gay person will lose out from the rights fellow employee enjoys, like time-off to care for a partner or be with them on special events. If they were in an accident, you cannot take charge and act as their Next-of-Kin lest people decode the binding and respectful love between you. And when your employer calls the fabbled end-of-year party or other, like being invited to an event, you would definitely not attend with that other person whom you love just because they are the same sex as you although, the invitation is open to everyone bringing their partner, etc. Also this particular situation may spell more problems for you because with everyone showing off their wife, husband, partner boy or girlfriends, questions will be asked about you and why not. This will also lead to many assumptions. The party may turn to a palaver for you. This is one of the consequences of ‘living discretely’.

So when the UK Supreme Court handed down this judgement, many people across the world were surprised and celebrated. Most questions I get to be asked since henceforth has bothered on how serious the UK Home Office could be about LGBT people if they do say such thing as ‘go and live discretely’. A lot of people never knew such thrash is ever said to anyone.

However, the merriment may have been over the top about these cases. While the case of these two individuals stands as a test case for many others seeking a better life of freedom from the punitive ‘discrete’ lives exemplified above, it must not be overlooked that the government may yet find another route to continue this inhuman assessment, disregard of quality of living and denial of right to life free of real risk that expose to death.

Writing in the Daily Express on July 14th exactly one week after this judgement, Miss Ann Widdecombe, a former Member of Parliament who stood down at the last general election expressed the most ridiculous opinion, saying “the homosexuals who seem to have wanted to come here merely so that they can be overt about their lifestyles. Many can sympathise with such an aspiration but it is a far cry from proof of individual danger. Was either about to be arrested?” That no doubt represent what successive UK governments thinks when they say to go and ‘live discretely’.

But as explained earlier on, ‘living discretely’is far worse than anyone can imagine; worse than being a slave. It is equivalent to living a lie and being a liar all one’s life. So to correct Ms. Widdecombe, it is not just by being arrested that the gay person fear when they run off to an assumed safer countries, it is about their sanity; it is about their dignity, personality, freedom of expression, and ultimately, it is about their safety.

In fact, to answer that, arrest would be perfectly okay than the mental torture of trying to lie; to maintain and sustain the lies, of trying to be cautious so as to avoid being attacked by a mob. But if you do not get killed, then an arrest could follow. How beautiful does that sound to Ms. Widdecombe and the British government? So much for the proponent of equal rights for all.

So what does this latest judgement mean to millions of gay people across world who may need a place of solace just to be themselves? Would they really get automatic nod to their request for a place of safety in the UK? Are they going to be welcomed with no questions? Would those already in the asylum process get a stamp fixed to their passport instantly and told their frustrations are over?

All these questions definitely get one uniform answer: NO. Just two weeks before the judgement was made, the UK new coalition government put out a policy statement declaring, “We will stop the deportation of asylum seekers who have had to leave particular countries because their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or execution”, claiming in the same document that the “UK is recognised as a world leader on LGB and T rights.”

Nonetheless, a key point missing out in that promise remains what criteria the government intends to use in identifying these ‘particular countries’ and the process to achieve that. From history, it is obvious that UK government has continuously not lived up to being a world leader in LGB and(or) T at any given time nor has set out any practical steps towards being friendly or a conducive country in this matter.

But after July 7th 2010, following that ruling by the Supreme Court, we hope that the UK will reconsider using her prestigious status and position in the international circle to bring about a positive change by negotiation bilateral relations and aid provision on terms that clearly states her position on human rights.

  • Godwyns Onwuchekwa is from the Justice for Gay Africans [JfGA] Society which lobbies for the rights of gay people in African countries through dialogue for a change of attitude on how society in general regards and treat gay people. JfGA is founded and based in London, UK.

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