On 14th June, we posted about Micro Rainbow, an organisation that helps lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) asylum seekers and refugees. In this blog post, we want to expand on the information we provided, primarily using a resource from Stonewall, a UK-based charity that stands for the freedom, equity and potential of all LGBTQI people. This is based on 22 in-depth interviews with LGBTQI asylum seekers, and is linked below.
The Human Dignity Trust states that 66 countries criminalise private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity, and that the death penalty is a legally usable punishment for this in 12 of these. There are also other nations in which LGBTQI people are not officially prosecuted, yet are still not protected by the state when they face violence inflicted by their own communities (this includes family members forcing them into ‘conversion therapy’). Therefore, many LGBTQI people are forced to seek refuge elsewhere, though they can still face discrimination and persecution in countries of asylum.
Micro Rainbow explains that its safe houses are needed because LGBTQI people are often abused in refugee detention centres and accommodation by other inhabitants, and can be rejected by their ethnic community in the UK. They are therefore susceptible to becoming impoverished or even homeless, and this can negatively affect their mental health. As a result of this, it is common for LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity.
In addition to facing abuse by other inhabitants of refugee detention centres and accommodation, some LGBTQI people have even reported mistreatment from staff. This happens due to both intentional discrimination as well as due to a lack of experience of working with people who do not identify as heterosexual or cisgender (meaning their sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex). A lack of support from staff can mean LGBTQI asylum seekers and refugees feel unable to speak out about the medication and treatment they require as a result of how they identify.
Another struggle for LGBTQI asylum seekers is that they are required to provide evidence that they are a member of this group. It can be extremely hard for people to prove their sexual orientation and gender identity in a situation with a lack of privacy and resources.
Transgender people can particularly suffer during the asylum process, as they may be sent to single-gender detention centres with those who are a different gender to them. For example, people who were born male but now identify as female can be forced to share bedrooms and showers with cisgender males. The constant stress from feeling unsafe as a result of their living situations, combined with the fact that transgender people are often unable to continue with their transitions during the asylum process, can result in depression, self-harm, and even suicide.
We hope this blog post has provided an insight into the experiences of LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers, and encourage the reading of the Stonewall resource for individuals’ stories and suggestions for how the asylum process can be improved for those who do not identify as heterosexual or cisgender. If you would prefer to listen to rather than read more about this topic, we recommend this podcast episode: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0mZXbeCJfROPNPA9IodmOp?si=240d9ccd49f14a6a.
Bachmann, ‘No Safe Refuge: Experiences of LGBT asylum seekers in detention’, Stonewall, https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/no_safe_refuge.pdf (2016)
Human Dignity Trust, ‘Map of Countries that Criminalise LGBT People’, Human Dignity Trust, https://www.humandignitytrust.org/lgbt-the-law/map-of-criminalisation/ (2023)
Micro Rainbow, ‘Housing’, Micro Rainbow, https://microrainbow.org/housing/ (2023)