Lesbian asylum seekers in the UK are subjected to ignorant and inappropriate questions from judges based on western stereotypes of gay women, new research from the University of Southampton shows.
Claire Bennett, a researcher at the Centre for Population Change, interviewed 12 lesbian women from countries with institutionalized homophobia – Pakistan, Uganda, Jamaica and Saudi Arabia, The Independent reports.
Bennett discovered that judges trying to ascertain the ‘legitimacy’ of the asylum seekers’ claims asked ‘inappropriate and insensitive’ questions to women from socially conservative countries with little gay culture.
A judge asked a teetotal Muslim asylum seeker ‘if you are a lesbian you go to clubs – which ones?’ and questioned whether she could be gay if she had never been to a Pride march.
A woman from Uganda was asked if she had ever read Oscar Wilde and a Jamaican woman was told she didn’t ‘look like a lesbian’ and asked if she used sex toys.
Transcripts from immigration tribunals are not released to the public so Bennett got all this information from interviews with the asylum seekers. She said her research shows the tribunals should be more transparent and judges should get more training on LGBT issues.
‘Whether you do or don’t use sex toys tells you nothing about someone’s sexual orientation so why is that a legitimate question?’ said Bennett.
‘It’s entirely inappropriate. For these women their sexuality wasn’t about sex toys or a favorite gay nightclub. We need much better statistics and much more transparency over how these decisions are made.’
In February S Chelvan, a leading barrister specializing in immigration and asylum law, warned that gay asylum seekers are under increasing pressure to prove their sexuality – leading to some feeling they have to go as filming themselves having sex.
‘It shows the system has broken down to push gay asylum seekers to have to go to such extremes,’ said Chelvan. ‘It’s inhuman and degrading.’