December 11, 2013
by Laurence Georgin
In November 2013 I, together with the Lesbian Immigration Support Group (LISG) Manchester, were asked to facilitate a workshop at Sapphormation, as part of ESRC’s social science festival. Based at Sydney street Cafe (a coffee shop for LGBT groups in Manchester), this was the perfect opportunity to engage with lesbian, bisexual and ‘women who love women’ on issues relating to lesbian asylum seekers in the UK. This theme is particularly timely given the recent publicity on the treatment of LGBT people in Russia and in parts of Africa. Homosexuality and same sex relationships is criminalised in 78 countries and is punished by the death penalty in seven countries (1), yet despite growing human rights concerns, these debates still remains on the periphery of academic and policy discussions on forced migration and sexuality studies (Itaborahy, 2012).
Seeking international protection on the grounds of your sexuality is a particularly tense and complex process given that homosexuality is not explicitly included in the 1951 Refugee Convention. As a consequence, concerns have been raised for a number of years regarding whether lesbian, gay men, bisexual and transgender individuals are able to access the international protection they need (Kendall, 2003, Hathaway and Popjoy, 2012, Millbank, 2012, Stuart, 2012).
To begin our session, Annie (2) (a lesbian asylum seeker from Jamaica) began the workshop and spoke of her experiences ‘back home’, her struggles to gain refugee status and of her recent homophobic attack in Manchester. I then talked about my recent PhD research which examined the difficulties lesbians face navigating the legal obstacles associated with the UK asylum process. With the help of LISG members who facilitated discussions, the group considered the problematic nature of evidencing sexuality as part of asylum claims including: what is classed as evidence? how is a ‘true’ sexuality ascertained? And what are the consequences of having this private information in the public domain?
Feedback received after the workshop illustrated how the attendees were both interested and perplexed at the demands of the UK asylum process and how this had impacted on lesbian asylum seekers. This workshop provided an excellent platform for the women from LISG to recount their own stories and to be heard. An asylum seeker from LISG said afterwards: “I have waited so long to talk to people about this, people should know what we face”. I hope more opportunities like this come up in the future. Thank you Sapphormation for an excellent day.
(1) Iran, northern States in Nigeria, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, southern parts of Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen
(2) Anonymised name
HATHAWAY, J. & POPJOY, J. 2012. Queer Cases Make Bad Law. Internation Law and Politics, 44, 315-389.
ITABORAHY, L. P. 2012. State-Sponsored Homophobia: A world survey of laws criminalising same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults. Brussels: International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Association (ILGA).
KENDALL, C. N. 2003. Lesbian and Gay Refugees in Australia: Now that ‘Acting Discreetly’ is no Longer an Option, will Equality be Forthcoming? International Journal of Refugee Law,, 15, 715-749.
MILLBANK, J. 2012. The Right of Lesbians and Gay Men to Live Freely and Openly on Equal Terms Is Not Bad Law: A Reply to Hathaway and Popjoy. New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, 44, 497-527.
STUART, A. 2012. Over Not Out – Refreshed. London.
For further information please contact Claire Bennett:
- Twitter: Claire Bennett – @BennClaire
- The Lesbian Immigration Support Group – @lisg_manchester
- Sappormation – @Sapphormation
For a recent podcast on Claire Bennett’s research with lesbian asylum seekers see:
Senior Research Assistant at the Centre for Population Change (CPC) (working on a joint ESRC project with COMPAS, University of Oxford) Talks of a recent workshop with the Lesbian Immigration Support Group (LISG) on her PhD topic ‘Sexuality and Asylum: The Perspectives of Lesbian Asylum Seekers in the UK,’ November 2013
Also a Visiting Scholar at The Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research, LSBU