Over the summer in the UK, Pride events have been taking place up and down the country. These events bring together lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities to embrace and celebrate the freedom to express their identity. Unfortunately this freedom is denied to many lesbian and gay people across the world.
Freedom from Torture works with a number of survivors of torture who have fled to the UK seeking safety following persecution in their home country because of their sexual identity. Once here, they have faced an asylum process which has resulted in the asylum applications of some LGBT people being refused because current decision making relies on people to ‘prove’ their sexuality – as Anna, a Freedom from Torture client from Uganda, told us, “If you do not fit their view of a stereotypical gay person then they don’t get it – how do I prove I’m a lesbian? What do they want me to do – act butch?”
Earlier this year Freedom from Torture supported Refugee Action’s ‘Free to be me’ campaign which demanded fair treatment for lesbian and gay people in the asylum system. Some months before in July 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that the UK Border Agency could not expect people to return to countries and hide their sexuality in order to avoid persecution – as some refused asylum seekers were told - leading to the ‘reasonable tolerability’ approach being abolished. Further, with increased pressure following public campaigning, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) implemented a training program for asylum caseworkers on sexual orientation and identity.
Yet in a UK parliamentary briefing paper by Melanie Gower from the Home Affair Section in House of Commons Library, Asylum: Claims Based on Sexual identity, she noted: “The UKBA has since enhanced its guidance and training for asylum caseworkers on how to handle these types of asylum claim, but has been criticised for failing to monitor how the new approach is being implemented.”A thematic quality audit review of decision-making in sexual orientation applications is currently being conducted.
Despite this, people are still facing return to countries where they would be at risk of persecution because of their sexual identity - all widely reported in recent press coverage, particularly following the murder of gay rights activist David Kato in Uganda. The Ugandan government drafted a bill in 2009 which if passed would have criminalized same sex relationships.
The following year an article was published in Rolling Stones, a weekly tabloid newspaper published in the capital Kampala, which published the names of over 100 people it believed to be gay alongside the headline ‘Hang them’. The UK Border Agency must get decisions right first time - the risks associated with poor decision making for lesbian and gay people is just too high.
Join Freedom from Torture in celebrating ‘Queer Youth Empowerment month’ this October as well as their new exhibition, “Testimony”, that Freedom from Torture will contribute to, telling the stories of young lesbian and gay people. Also, sign up to receive regular campaign updates here.