Free to be me

One of my first Refugee Week blogs, back in 2012, explored the double jeopardy experienced by people who were seeking sanctuary because their sexuality put them at risk of violence, imprisonment or murder in their homeland.

So, if the gay asylum seeker conforms to the norms of mainstream society, they may not convince officialdom that they are genuinely in need of asylum because of their sexuality.  If they conform to officialdom’s expectations of gay identity, they put themselves in even greater danger should their claim fail and they be deported, and they expose themselves to prejudice and aggression here – most poignantly, the communities which for many asylum seekers provide a vital support network, their compatriots in exile, may be the most hostile.    Double jeopardy. 

It would seem that, not only have things not significantly improved for gay asylum-seekers in the last six years, but that they have worsened.  The culture of disbelief is such that even those who are ‘out’ here may have their claim doubted because, for example,  back home they married and had children.  The level of risk that they might face back home is trivialised (they used to be told that they just had to be ‘discreet’ – maybe they still are…).  And the fact that being ‘out’ here, being part of LGBT activism and campaigning, means that not only will they be at risk from the family members and neighbours who drove them out in the first place, but from anyone who knows from social media or the press about their case, is disregarded.  Nonetheless:

According to Home Office figures released last year, of 3,535 asylum claims related to sexuality over a two-year period, a staggering two-thirds were rejected.

Things may have progressed here in a way that would have been unimaginable when I was a teenager in the 70s.  That’s true, and wonderful.  But LGBT people are still subject to random violence and public hostility, as this recent blog by Justin Myers pointed out:


So it is back, the self-consciousness of my youth, the reluctance to be myself, because being myself is not enough for some and not allowed by others. I can be visible, sure, but I can never be effervescent, or extra, or take up too much space, make too much noise. In a world where you can be abused in a pub for just being, what hope do we have?

And this is the fear I fear the most, because it’s the most powerful, merciless and controlling. When you take away my feeling of comfort and safety, I have nothing.

Imagine how that is amplified if you’re black, if you’re far from home, if your accent or your unfamiliarity with the language and culture here betrays your foreignness every time you venture out.  Imagine living with that fear, if the only alternative you have is to go back to a place where violence and hostility are not just a risk but a certainty.

Owen Jones‘ piece in the Guardian is powerful and essential:

The architects of the British empire helped construct anti-gay laws across the globe that still endure today. The victims of such persecution need our support. Instead, they are being terrorised. It is a national scandal – and the silence over it must end.



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