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Outrage’s Brett Lock tells PinkNews.co.uk the issues facing gay asylum seekers

Yesterday was the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO). Today, six countries still impose the death penalty for homosexuality, and more than ten times that many criminalise us and persecute us. In many more countries, homophobia is so institutionalised that the police and authorities do very little – if anything at all – to defend gay people from abuse and discrimination.

Therefore it was quite fitting that a demonstration in support of gay asylum seekers formed part of the UK’s programme marking the second IDAHO.

The gay community in the UK has seen great strides over the past decade towards a semblance of equality. While there is still work to be done, most of us enjoy lives free from threats to life and limb, and where social homophobia intrudes, we usually have recourse to the law.

Yet the majority of gay people around the world still live in fear and under threat. We have a duty to use the freedoms and resources we enjoy to help them. We are part of an international community. If gay people do not reach out and help other gay people,

no one will.

Now, as great as it would be to have gay superheroes and an International Rescue with a fleet of pink Thunderbirds, we don’t. But there is still a great deal we can do. We have a government that is mostly good on gay rights, but nevertheless is seriously failing on the asylum front.

Indeed, there is no official policy supporting the right of refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation. The spin-off effect is that there is no maintained database of accurate, up-to-date information on the victimisation of gay people in violently homophobic countries and no training on sexual orientation issues for asylum staff and adjudicators.

To further complicate this, there is no adequate access to proper legal representation for gay asylum applicants. The low levels of legal aid funding do not allow the compilation of comprehensive evidence to substantiate claims of persecution. Some asylum applicants have no legal representation at all and are forced to prepare their own defence within an unfamiliar legal system and in a second language. Many try to do so while suffering homophobic abuse in detention centres or, fearing such abuse, feeling unable to ‘come out’ and prepare their cases. No action to stamp out the abuse of gay refugees in UK asylum detention camps appears to be taken at present – again a result of the lack of Home Office policy in this area.

The reason it is so important that we pressure ‘safe-harbour’ countries like the UK to take action, develop policy and – most importantly – recognise asylum claims on the basis of sexual orientation is that there are no international conventions that do so.

The Brazilian Resolution, brought before the UN, which sought to include sexual orientation along with race, religion, political affiliation, disability and other categories of persecution, has consistently failed after organised opposition by the Catholic lobby

led by the Vatican and a bloc of Islamic countries (the worst offenders).

As Simon Hughes noted at the IDAHO demonstration outside the Home Office yesterday, it is a disgrace that 70 years after the Nazi persecution of gay people, there is still no international recognition of the fact that people are persecuted on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

While Mr Hughes has pledged to take up the complaints against the Home Office, it is disappointing that there are not more politicians – especially within the Labour Party – who will stand up and be counted to make sure something is done.

And something must be done – without delay.

The placards held yesterday by the small picket point the way forward. “Give refuge to gay victims of jail and torture” – The Home Office must start by recognising that sexual orientation is one of the primary sources of persecution in the world today. It needs to do its homework and commission serious research.

“Gay asylum seekers are victims, not criminals” – Gay refugees are treated like criminals. More often than not, they’re locked up in detention centres with real criminals awaiting deportation. What gives me nightmares are the (too often shocking) stories reported to

OutRage! of abuse inside the detention centres – from fellow ‘inmates’, from warders, and finally, from the adjudication process itself, which often echoes the homophobia the asylum applicant was fleeing in the first place.

“The line of questioning is often humiliating, and the applicant must recount painful experiences over and over with little or no emotional support or access to counselling.

“Stop jailing gay asylum seekers” – It is impossible for asylum seekers to prepare their cases, seek out proper legal aid and get the support of the community if they’re locked away in detention centres.

“Stop deporting gay refugees” – At least two gay Iranian refugees have committed suicide rather than face being deported to Iran, where they almost certainly would have been executed in a very cruel and barbaric way.

OutRage! believes that asylum should be one of the most pressing issue on the gay campaigning agenda. As a community, we are understandably punch-drunk after decades of campaigning, but we must pick ourselves up and use our hard-won freedoms now more than ever. We must not forget our gay sisters and brothers n other countries who are struggling to survive against incredible odds.

Our asylum system is a mess. It’s a national disgrace. We must do

something about it. If yesterday we got one Member of Parliament to

stand with us, tomorrow, hopefully, there will be more.

Brett Lock is a campaigner with the gay human rights group OutRage!

Protesters outside the Home Office yesterday

Outrage’s Iraqi LGBT officer Ali Hili and Peter Tatchell helped organise the demo

Outrage’s Peter Tatchell, IDAHO UK co-ordinator Derek Lennard, Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes, and Iraqi LGBT officer Ali Hili