For LGBT History Month 2024, our Storytelling Officer Chris Afuakwah reflects on the reality for LGBT+ people seeking safety in the UK.

“What we see operationally is that people do game the system. They come to the UK, they purport to be homosexual in the effort to game our system, in the effort to get special treatment.”

Suella Braverman, former Home Secretary, speaking to ITV News in 2023, following backlash to her statement that “simply being gay” wasn’t enough to qualify for protection in the UK.

She also claimed that the definition of “persecution” has been stretched to include “discrimination”, and that this has “lowered the threshold” for asylum claimants to the UK.

Facts are facts, Suella

A mere 2% of asylum claims in the UK in 2022 were based on sexuality, according to the Government’s own statistics.

Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria were the top three countries of origin for claims where sexual orientation was mentioned. Unsurprisingly, in all three of those countries, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by life imprisonment.

Is life imprisonment not persecution-y enough for you, Suella?

Sadly, if the ongoing devastation in Gaza is anything to go by, clearly not. Genocide can be live-streamed 24/7 these days and still be denied. So what hope does, say, a closeted lesbian from Nigeria have when trying to gather evidence to prove her identity and need for safety?

The asylum process is no game

The narrative that the asylum system can be “gamed” places in the public’s minds that seeking asylum is a logical, simple process that can be manipulated.

Tell that to the people who have been stuck in its clutches for five, ten, twenty years, unable to work, unable to travel, watching their lives trickle away. The asylum process is deliberately designed to be long and gruelling, bureaucratic, and to catch people out on minor details. Saying the wrong date or time can jeopardise your claim. It is no game.

And this narrative that people are pretending to be gay? And that this would somehow make their asylum claim easier to process? Laughable.

I ask myself, how would I prove my sexuality?

Text messages with a partner? Internet history? Receipts for a gay bar? Photos at Pride?

Imagine you’ve fled persecution by the state on the grounds of your sexuality, and are now being asked to prove that you are gay, to another state official. Even if you do have all of the above, those are very private, intimate details. You wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing them with a civil servant. You might feel shame. You might feel worried about what they would do with the information – if they refuse your claim, would they share it with your home country? You might worry that the official thinks you seem straight enough that you could just hide your sexuality, or that you’re trying too hard to appear stereotypically gay. You’d undoubtedly feel traumatised by having intimate text messages read out in court, and invasive questions asked about your sex life, all to prove that you are who you are.

Perhaps your sexuality or gender identity doesn’t fit neatly into a Western label, and you don’t even know which box to tick. Or your life experience doesn’t conform to heterosexual expectations of how an LGBT+ person would live their life – visiting certain bars or being part of a support group – making it harder to “prove” your identity. And what if your interpreter doesn’t quite know how to translate your experience, or you worry about their opinion of your identity and what their connections are to your home country or community?

This is the reality for LGBT+ people seeking safety in the UK.

A safety which, even when granted, breeds yet more challenges. Yes, you can live freely, but what now? You’re sharing accommodation, maybe even a room, with someone who is homophobic. You’re trying to get into a queer bar, but are discriminated against by other clientele, or even the bouncer at the door. You’re getting racist abuse, or ignored, on dating apps. You’re relocated to a small town which doesn’t have a queer scene or a support group. You’re here, you’re “safe”, but you’re still figuring it out, you’re not as comfortable with yourself as you’d like to be, and you’re still trying to find where you belong.

So no, Suella, nobody is “gaming” the system. The only people playing games with the asylum system are this Government, who for the past 13 years have been catastrophically eroding and destroying people’s right to seek safety in the UK.

The human right to seek safety from persecution is something that we all share.

As this Government erodes the right to seek safety in this country, our right to protest, migrant rights, trans rights, worker’s rights, healthcare rights, right in front of our eyes, and drags us kicking and screaming out of the ECHR, it begs the question:

Will we only realise the importance of human rights and civil liberties once they’re gone?

 

Organisations in Glasgow supporting LGBTQ+ refugees:

LGBT Health and Wellbeing

LGBT Unity

Africa Global Community Project

 

Organisations across the UK:

Rainbow Migration

African Rainbow Family

Micro Rainbow

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants

Say it Loud Club

 

Podcasts:

Gender is a Spectrum

Asylum Speakers: Being an LGBT+ refugee

Refugee Stories: Kazi’s story

Open Table: The Mic Drop

 

Research:

Queering Asylum in Europe: Legal and Social Experiences of Seeking International Protection on grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (2021)

 

Chris Afuakwah is our Storytelling Officer. Find out more about our Storytelling work.

Chris Afuakwah
Author: Chris Afuakwah