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OPINION: “The UK is failing LGBQTI asylum seekers”

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The progress of LGBTQI rights since 1969, the year of the Stonewall uprisings, is remarkable.

Pride events across the world shine as a beacon of light for protest and celebration. However it is a mistake to assume LGBTQI people enjoy full equality with cis, heterosexual peers because of legislation advancements.

As popular discourse from leading political figures across the world swings to the right, as anti-LGBTQI voices are legitimised as just a “different opinion”, how can it be surprising that reported hate crime against the trans community has leapt by 81% since 2016/17?

Brexit has emboldened those who herald the past – where LGBTQI lives were criminalised, hidden and degraded – as a golden era. The entire LGBTQI community is at high risk from the nasty politics of Brexit but one of the most vulnerable groups of all are facing unparalleled cruelty: transgender individuals seeking refuge in the United Kingdom.

Current UK law

EU laws and treaties offer protection to UK citizens. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, in Article 21, states that “discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited” (Gov UK).

This security is about to be ripped away as once the UK leaves the EU, there is no legal obligation in place to adhere to the charter. It is little wonder that many in the community have called for a return to political protest, to mirror the Stonewall uprisings, at Pride events in the face of losing protection and rights. As the LGBTQI community looks to fight for representation and safety, what’s the forecast for the future?

Increasing hostility and violence

The ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) analysed 49 countries within Europe and found miserable results.

Hate crime has exploded, with Stonewall’s 2017 report plus stigmatisation of gender identity in the mediahighlighting how gender identity has become such a cultural hot topic.

The University of Bristol conducted research into the likeliness of the UK shunning non-discrimination policies regarding trans rights once Britain is no longer a member of the EU as “EU law is the justification for including transgender identities within our current equality framework”, concluding things may only get worse.

The Government fails its own trans citizens at every turn; with migration (particularly from asylum seekers and refugees) so often demonised by the mainstream media, trans individuals fleeing tyranny in their home countries are not adequately supported, welcomed or protected.

Trans discrimination is so rife in the UK that in 2017, a British transgender woman was lawfully allowed to remain in her new home of New Zealand after facing abuse due to her gender identity in the UK. It was stated that to return her to the UK would be “unduly harsh” considering she had built a new life in New Zealand since 2009, granting her residency on humanitarian grounds. This proof of endemic transphobia in the UK still wasn’t enough to propel the Government into action.

Being LGBTQI and applying for asylum in the UK

Applying for asylum in the UK is an emotionally exhausting process with many asylum seekers being denied the right to safety in Britain. The process is even more brutal when the applicant is LGBTQI.

Aggressive questioning and an attitude of “guilty until proven innocent” is the Home Office’s approach, along with ignorance towards LGBTQI lives. It is the applicant’s responsibility to prove to the Home Office that they cannot return to their country of origin because if so, they would be in serious danger in the form of either imprisonment, physical harm or torture, based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The issue with this is that it is often extremely challenging for someone to prove their gender identity or sexuality when they have been forced to kept it a secret or participate in their home country’s norms, from wearing clothing that is stereotypically associated with their gender as assigned at birth to being in a relationship with someone of a different gender to them.

Detention centres and mistreatment

The UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group’s 2016 report, No Safe Refuge, discovered LGBTQI+ asylum applicants who have experienced being locked up in one of the UK’s detention centres reported high levels of poor treatment.

Privacy becomes a privilege not afforded to these individuals who have suffered some of the most violent and terrifying abuses, have come to the UK to seek safety, to be treated without dignity.

Misgendering and intrusive questioning is common with the line of questioning supposedly attempting to “gain explicit consent”, despite this tactic being “strongly discouraged” by the Home Office as of 2015.

The future after Brexit

In a post-Brexit world, it is imperative that the rights of all those in the LGBTQI community are upheld to provide security for everyone. Unfortunately, attitudes and practices encouraged by the hostile environment policy remain.

Theresa May’s supposed crackdown on making “illegal” immigrants feel unwelcome in the UK impacted on all migrants, including vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, who have a right to seek asylum in the UK. This inhumane policy has been declared officially dead ever since the Windrush scandal, with former Home Secretary Sajid Javid distancing himself from this policy. While undeniably the right move, it is laughable the Government thinks after legitimising racial bias this will simply go away. The experience of LGBTQI asylum seekers highlights the brutality of the policy.

Research must be conducted in order to establish new human rights legislation that specifically protects and elevates LGBTQI people, including those coming to the UK to seek sanctuary. It must use the lived experiences and voices of LGBTQI lives to reflect the prevailing issues the community faces.

Home Office and detention centre officials must be well-educated on the sensitive issues LGBTQI asylum seekers have faced and are facing. The Government has no right to decorate Number 10 in Pride colours with the former Prime Minister tweeting about respect for LGBTQI lives when it so tragically fails to protect trans individuals, British or otherwise.

Alexandra Jarvis is a writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of UK immigration solicitors which provides legal support for those looking to migrate to the UK or hire overseas workers

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