To celebrate Pride and Refugee Week, we hosted an event at The Conduit on how we can better support LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers.

Hosted by TEDxLondon Alumni, Reeta Loi, the event spotlighted the work of Nancy Kelley in her role as CEO of Stonewall UK and Moud Goba, National Manager for Micro Rainbow.

So, if you missed the event you can not only catch the full recording, but also on the summary below, by the wonderful Jamie Windust.

What is the main aim of the work that Stonewall and Micro Rainbow do with LGBTQ+ Refugees?

For many LGBTQ+ refugees, the discrimination that they face because of their gender identity or sexuality is the reason why they make the decision to find safety elsewhere. In 64 countries across the world there are laws that criminalise homosexuality, meaning that many LGBTQ+ people face life threatening danger in their home countries. 

Nancy mentions in her opening remarks that “What [Stonewall] spend our time lobbying for is to try and prevent further degradation in LGBTQ+ peoples human rights in terms of their refugee status.”

“Outside of the UK we work with big international institutions such as the UN high commission on refugees but it’s also big NGOs such as Save The Children and Oxfam, to get them to take seriously the needs of LGBTQ+ people within refugee flows.”

Moud Goba’s work at Micro Rainbow focuses on providing equal opportunities in life, and access to education, financial services, healthcare and housing for LGBTQ+ Refugees.

“At Micro Rainbow we work on the ground with LGBTQI+ refugees … when people arrive, there are additional challenges”, she explains. For many LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum, they face discrimination in the accommodation they are provided with by the Home Office, creating a hostile environment for them. This is where Micro Rainbow helps re-house vulnerable individuals.

What unique challenges do LGBTQ+ people face when claiming asylum?

“The challenge is if you’re coming from a country where you’re criminalised, perhaps others have come as refugees because of war, and if you’re in the same space we find that a lot of the people who we work with are abused and experience extreme homophobia and transphobia,” continues Moud. 

“A lot of the people we work with were homeless as they would abandon their Home Office accommodation where they faced abuse and come to London or Manchester where they may feel safer.”

Three speakers sitting on high chairs being introduce in front of an audience by another speaker. Panel- Reeta, an asian person with short brown hair, Nancy a white woman with a blonde bob and Moud, a black woman with long black braids. Audience is visible in foreground

What does the legal process actually look like?

Nancy shared what the legal process can look like for LGBTQ+ people – detailing the specific challenges they face along the way.

“The Refugee Convention wasn’t developed with [LGBTQ+ people] in mind. One of the problems that that causes is that the legal model, including our legal models that flow from this Convention, have a model in mind of what a ‘real’ refugee looks like or what a well founded claim looks like.”

“So already at that entry point LGBTQ+ refugees struggle much more within a system that is dreadful for everyone. They struggle to have their claim seen as credible or supported, or to find good quality legal advice.”

What is the Nationality and Borders Act – and how does it make things even harder for LGBTQ+ Refugees?

According to the Refugee Council some of the provisions that the Nationality and Borders Act make focus heavily on penalising refugees who travel to the UK via ‘irregular’ means. It also raised the ‘Burden of Proof’, which according to the Home Office ‘requires the claimant to submit all material factors required to substantiate their claim’. It emphasises that the burden is on the claimant to provide evidence.

Moud, who has experienced the Asylum System here in the UK first hand, explains what goes through many LGBTQ+ refugees minds’ when they are fleeing their home countries and how difficult it is to meet the Burden of Proof.

“Even if you have a person or a lover … you don’t keep any evidence. Even if you had any evidence, people flee when something bad happens and when you flee what do you take? … You won’t have a tenancy agreement with your lover’s name even if you lived together? Not everyone will have a lover, and will be afraid of being outed or exploring their sexuality so when you have to prove who you are – where do you start?”

She also shared her own experiences of the asylum system here in the UK, and what that looked like as a lesbian woman.

“I went to the Home Office and they asked me, ‘so you’re a lesbian and you have a child?’. From that moment when I went to the screening unit it was sobering – when I got there I was so excited. I had a story to tell and a case to put to the Home Office but as soon as the questions started I knew it was going to be difficult.”

On the left, Reeta, a brown asian person with very short brown hair sits on a high chair with a microphone. On the right, Nancy, a white woman with a short blonde bob sits on a high chair talking into a microphone

What can we do moving forward to help support LGBTQ+ Refugees?

Support Stonewalls Campaigning Stonewall, one of the UKs leading charities has many resources and activations that we can get involved with when it comes to supporting LGBTQ+ refugees. 

-Follow Rainbow Migration, Refugee Action, African Rainbow Family, Say It Loud Club and other similar LGBTQI+ refugee charities to keep up to date with the work they’re doing on the ground.

-Emailing your local MP to highlight the issues LGBTQ+ Refugees face. You can find your local MP here.

-Support Amazon Wishlists to provide household items for LGBTQ+ Refugees being housed in new accommodation. Micro Rainbow are asking for donations here. 

-Educate yourself. Be in the know of who in our community is left behind, who are the marginalised in our already marginalised community. Let’s challenge ignorance wherever we come across it.

-Donate your time. Volunteering in whatever way your skill set allows is a great help for LGBTQ+ organisations, such as Micro Rainbow, who rely on the kindness of volunteers.

With many thanks to Reeta Loi, Moud Goba and Nancy Kelley for their words and insights at TEDxLondon Pride & Refugee Week live at The Conduit.

Jamie, a white person in a brown smart suit, on the TEDxLondonWomen stage speaking and holding a black book.

Our thanks go to Jamie Windust for these words. Jamie is an author, model and broadcaster and currently Contributing Editor at Gay Times. Their work highlights their experiences as an LGBTQ+ person in the world, often combining important messages around trans representation with humour, comedy and British Wit.

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