Have you ever read Oscar Wilde? Do you use sex toys? Why have you not attended a Pride march? These are just some of the questions that have been asked of lesbian asylum seekers in what one academic says shows shocking levels of ignorance and prejudice among tribunal judges.
Over the past year Claire Bennett, a researcher at the University of Southampton, has interviewed a dozen gay women from socially conservative countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and Jamaica to assess what their experience of applying for asylum has been like.
She found that the women were routinely subjected to “inappropriate and insensitive” questioning from tribunal judges in their bid to ascertain whether the women really were gay or at genuine risk of persecution.
“I thought I was quite unshockable just in terms of how dehumanising criminalising the whole asylum process is,” Ms Bennett, who worked in refugee camps in Afghanistan and Cambodia before returning to Britain, told The Independent. “I was wrong.”
Her findings, which will be presented today to the British Sociological Association’s annual conference, will raise questions over what training immigration judges receive on dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) applicants.
Many of the women complained that much of the questioning seemed to presume they led the same kind of gay lifestyles as someone might in the West, despite coming from deeply socially conservative cultures where heterosexual intercourse was rarely discussed publicly, let alone homosexual. The questioning also made stereotypical assumptions of what constitutes a typical gay lifestyle.
One woman from Jamaica was told by an immigration judge that he did not believe she was homosexual because “you don’t look like a lesbian”. Another lesbian asylum seeker from Pakistan was asked in court “If you are a lesbian you go to clubs – which ones?” despite her being a Muslim woman who did not drink. Her credibility as a lesbian was also questioned because she had not attended a Pride march and the immigration judge her that “all lesbians go to Pride”.
One woman from Uganda – where gay men and women are subjected to increasingly horrific, state-sponsored homophobic violence – said she was even asked whether she’d ever read Oscar Wilde.
Stuff I wish more radical / ‘anti-assimilationist’ queers would care about.