Supporting LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum must be at the forefront of ours minds, writes Leanne MacMillan, Director of Global Programmes at Stonewall.
This year’s LGBT History Month theme for Scotland is ‘Blurring borders: a world in motion’. For us at Stonewall, as the world’s second largest LGBTQ+ charity, our international work is a key pillar of our organisational strategy.
Our vision is of a world where everyone is free to be ourselves – but the truth is that in many areas of the world, simply being LGBTQ+ puts your life at risk.
For this reason, supporting LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum must be at the forefront of our minds, and key to our actions, as human rights defenders in Scotland and across the UK. We know that nobody would leave their home country – risking their lives and livelihoods, and leaving behind the world they built for themselves – unless they had no other option.
The journeys they embark upon to reach safer shores are gruelling and fraught with risk. And the reality is that when – or if – they reach sanctuary, the challenges are far from over. Those who survive the journey to countries like the UK are often met with suspicion and cruelty, where they should be welcomed and supported.
The trauma refugees experience before, during and after fleeing their home countries is hard to comprehend for those of us who have always lived in relative safety.
And sadly, arriving in the UK is only the beginning of a new struggle for many refugees. Having to rebuild a life from scratch, with limited access to vital resources including benefits, housing and education, leaves them under immense stress which negatively impacts their mental health and ability to integrate.
This would be tough for anyone. For LGBTQ+ refugees, these problems are compounded by the requirement to ‘prove’ that they are who they say they are.
Applicants often struggle to have their sexual orientation or gender identity believed. In many cases, the only ‘evidence’ someone has to prove their identity is their own testimony.
They have to talk about the most personal and intimate aspects of their lives to a stranger, who then decides whether or not they are telling the truth. In many cases this may be the first time they have told someone who they are, because in some countries, disclosing you are LGBTQ+ will mean certain death.
If asylum claims are rejected, LGBTQ+ refugees risk being deported to countries where they could be imprisoned, tortured or even killed, just for being themselves.
We are proud to fight for the rights of our LGBTQ+ siblings, wherever they are in the world. Last year, we responded to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan by lobbying the UK Government to recognise LGBTQ+ Afghans – who faced persecution and death under the Taliban – as a priority group for evacuation.
In late October, the first of several groups arrived safely in the UK, to begin their lives afresh.
This was not an entirely new experience for Stonewall, as we also spent several years lobbying for the protection of those fleeing persecution in Chechnya.
Demanding action from governments can and does make a difference, and alongside our partners, including Rainbow Migration and Rainbow Railroad, our role is to call on governments to respond to emerging global issues and prioritise our communities when they are at risk of harm.
We’re also campaigning for better United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) guidelines on deciding LGBTQ+ asylum claims, and for fairer outcomes for LGBTQ+ refugees here in the UK.
We’re determined to do all we can to ensure LGBTQ+ people are treated with dignity and compassion, and that the solidarity we feel in our communities stretches beyond borders.
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Leanne MacMillan leads the small but mighty Global team at Stonewall, who work in partnership with over a hundred global LGBTI+ civil society organisations on a range of thematic programmes. These include projects on hate crime reporting, working with police, and working with LBT+ communities in over 20 countries to deliver on the promise of the UN Sustainable Development Goals through research and advocacy.
Before joining Stonewall, she spent three decades working with human rights defenders doing research, advocacy and capacity building in over 40 countries, and serving as the UN Head of Office for Amnesty International in NYC.