A group that works with lesbian and gay asylum seekers has said that the Home Secretary’s assertion that gay men and lesbians who are “discreet” are not in danger in Iran is ill-informed and offensive.
The UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group (UKGLIG) was founded in 1993 to assist same-sex, bi-national couples win the right for foreign partners to remain in the United Kingdom.
For the last four years focused on the problems faced by lesbian and gay asylum seekers.
In the past year it has dealt with more than 200 people.
Executive director Sebastian Rocca told PinkNews.co.uk that he believes there are many more, some of whom are afraid to declare their sexuality to Home Office officials in case being open about their sexuality could put them in danger if they are returned.
The bulk of the people UKGLIG helps are from Iran, Iraq, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Jamaica and Pakistan.
Mr Rocca said he was personally offended by Jacqui Smith’s comments.
In a letter to Lib Dem peer Lord Roberts of Llandudno, published in The Independent yesterday, she said:
“With … regard to Iran, current case law handed down by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal concludes that the evidence does not show a real risk of discovery of, or adverse action against gay and lesbian people who are discreet about their sexual orientation.”
Mr Rocca said her comments showed an ignorance of what it means to be gay.
“Being gay is not just about sex, it is about being able to express who you are, walking the way you like, not having to change the tone of your voice, being able to talk about the things that interest you, be that interior design and not football.
“Asking gay men to go back to Iran and be “discreet,” that is persecution in itself.”
He said that the Home Secretary had not thought about what discreet means in this context.
“If you are a gay man and you go back, you have to get married to a woman – it’s not acceptable to not be married.
“If you do not, that is one of the reasons why they can decide not to employ you or rent you an apartment – they will ask questions.
“I had a case where they keep refusing to get married and their family sent them to a psychiatrist.”
Mr Rocha added that being “discreet” is effectively someone to be alone for the rest of their life.
“We have an obligation to protect lesbians and gay men,” he added.
UKGLIG is helping 35 people from Iran at present.
Mr Rocha said that Home Office guidance had improved in recent years.
“They do consult with us quite often and they have improved the bulletin about Iran after consultation.
“The people we deal with are the people who prepare the country of origin reports that judges read when they make a decision about asylum.
“They’re key to us.”
Mr Rocha said it was difficult to understand how this concept of “discretion” would be factored into asylum appeals.
Yesterday the Tories added to the chorus of criticism of Jacqui Smith.
Stephen Crabb MP said:
“The Iranian regime has a dreadful track-record when it comes to the treatment of homosexuals and other minority groups and is more than willing to use torture and the death sentence to punish offenders.
“Asking minorities to live their lives discreetly is to give in to the tyrants and bullies who sustain their positions through fear and coerced conformity.
“It demonstrates both an unelevated view of the importance of human rights and cowardice in championing our own system of values.”
A group that campaigns on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans asylum seekers, gayasylumuk, called the Home Secretary’s comments outrageous, shameful, inhumane and anti-gay and called for protesters to target the Prime Minister and the Labour party.
“We hope that gay and lesbian Labour voters in particular will consider changing their vote if the policy isn’t changed before the next election,” said gayasylumuk’s Paul Canning.
The Green party has also criticised her and attacked the “macho posturing” of the Home Office.
Phelim Mac Cafferty, media spokesperson for LGBT Greens said:
“Jacqui Smith is playing a dangerous game with the lives of Iranian LGBT refugees: effectively she’s trying to rubbish the argument that LGBT people are being persecuted for their sexuality in Iran.
“Her claim that as long as people are “discreet” a regime notorious for its treatment of LGBT people will somehow stop persecuting them is misled at best and homicidal at worst.
“Instead of this macho posturing from the Home Office on keeping asylum figures down, we desperately need a Home Secretary prepared to look the Iranian regime in the eyes and stand up for what’s right for LGBT people.”
Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill told The Independent:
“You only have to listen to people who were terrorised by the Metropolitan Police in the 1950s and 1960s to know that telling gay people to live discreetly is quixotic.”