Let's celebrate Pride with empathy and ensure LGBT+ refugees are not left behind
We are in the midst of Pride season, and one can feel the buzz of LGBT+ celebration across the country. To make these year’s Pride festivals even more special, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising is being celebrated as well.
Yet, in the frenzy of consumeristic celebration, we risk leaving behind those most marginalised within the LGBT+ community.
That is the case of LGBT+ refugees, as the one we recently saw in BBC’s recent series Years and Years. The series depicts a not so distant dystopia, full of rabble-rousing politicians, military interventions, refugee movements, nuclear conflicts, omnipresent technology, and glaring socio-economic inequality.
In this daunting scenario we meet Viktor Goraya, a gay man escaping torture and persecution in Ukraine seeking international protection as a refugee in the UK.
Years and Years gets many things right. Sexual minorities who claim asylum the UK are often treated appallingly: some are detained indefinitely without having committed any crime, they are barred from working no matter how long their asylum claim takes, and good legal representation is hard to find.
These issues affect all asylum claimants, but at the University of Sussex we’re finding that sexual minorities suffer in particular ways from the system’s harshness.
For one, the decision-making goal posts are always shifting: sometimes individuals are refused because the Home Office doesn’t believe they are gay; sometimes the Home Office accepts they are gay but claims gay people aren’t in danger in their country of origin.
They are victims of particularly cruel forms of disbelief, and often fall into a catch-22 situation: if they don’t fit stereotypes of how a gay, lesbian or bisexual person behaves, they are refused; if they fit those stereotypes too well, then they are ‘faking it’ to get protection, and they are also refused.
They are expected to prove what for most of us is unprovable: one’s sexuality. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), they should be given the benefit of the doubt but that rarely happens.
Experimental statistics released by the Home Office last year show the number of people granted protection on sexual orientation grounds has fallen, from 39 per cent in 2015 to 22 per cent in 2017.
But most people appeal against a refusal and many appeals are upheld – roughly a third – suggesting flawed decision-making by the Home Office that is costly to all concerned on every level.
A striking feature in sexual minority asylum is the sea of difference between the treatment of UK/EU sexual minorities and that of sexual minorities seeking asylum.
Whilst UK/EU citizens can marry their partners, adopt children and obtain redress for discrimination and hate crime, those seeking asylum are prevented from carrying out their lives in a humane manner or vindicating their rights in any significant way.
In the meantime, that ‘hostile environment’ fosters decisions based on a paranoid mentality, playing into the hands of a growing smuggling industry, all too happy to make a profit out of vulnerable individuals seeking safety.
As Daniel, in Years and Years says, ‘it’s like intelligence is going backwards… [the] human race is getting more stupid right in front of my eyes’.
We need to win the fight against ‘fake news’ and generate well-informed debates on asylum and refugees. Yet, that is not enough.
What is also crucially missing in our day and age is empathy and solidarity towards people seeking asylum and refugees. As the tragic events surrounding Sea Watch 3 – yet another refugee rescue boat prevented from docking in Italy – show, there is an increasingly embedded lack of humanity in our policies.
For sexual minorities, humanising asylum policy means rejecting the fallacy that claimants can be returned to their countries because they would be voluntarily ‘discreet’ to avoid embarrassing friends and family.
Second, the political significance of these individuals’ resistance to oppressive gender norms needs to be recognised and vindicated.
Third, their right to private and family life needs to be acknowledged and respected, instead of preventing people from being with their loved ones: we have talked to a number of lesbian women separated from their children for lengthy periods, including one woman who is still waiting for her appeal after three years.
Meanwhile, her daughter back home turns 10 this year. We need to develop humanitarian visas that can allow sexual minorities suffering persecution to escape without having to undergo lethal journeys.
Above all, we need to understand the emotional and physical pain and anguish that sexual minorities seeking asylum undergo – before, during and after arriving in Europe.
The cruelty of anti-refugee and anti-migrant policies need to be exposed to the irrational and inhumane measures that they are.
The solution is in collective and individual ‘responsibilisation’, resistance to oppressive practices, siding with marginalised individuals, and holding politicians to account.
As Years and Years tries to tell us, we are able to change society for the better, and – recognising that our lives are a privilege – we must cherish them and live them with love and empathy.
So, let’s celebrate Pride with love and empathy – not leaving anyone behind, including LGBT+ refugees.
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