Home Office mistreatment of LGBT people must be stopped

One of the low points of this week for me was reading about Aderonke Apata.  She came to the UK after her girlfriend was murdered in Nigeria but this week a Home Office barrister actually stood up in court in public and argued Aderonke couldn’t possibly be a lesbian because she had children and because she wasn’t “part of the social group known as lesbians.” Do people not think about how ridiculous these things sound before they say them out loud? The Independent reports:

But the Home Office argues that Ms Apata could not be considered a lesbian because she has children and has previously been in heterosexual relationships. Ms Apata’s barrister, Abid Mahmood, said these were “highly offensive… stereotypical views of the past”.

He told the hearing: “Some members of the public may have those views but it doesn’t mean a government department should be putting these views forward in evidence.”

The Home Secretary’s barrister, Andrew Bird, argued that Ms Apata was “not part of the social group known as lesbians” but had “indulged in same-sex activity”. He continued: “You can’t be a heterosexual one day and a lesbian the next day. Just as you can’t change your race.”

Holding hands with her wife-to-be Happiness Agboro in court yesterday, Ms Apata, 47, was surrounded by dozens of gay-rights activists.

Homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison in Nigeria under laws passed in January 2014 and there has been a spike in violence against gay people.

There have long been concerns about the frankly cruel, inhumane and brutal way the Home Office treats LGBT people that pre-dates this government. While Labour were in office, they used to tell people that they’d be fine in their home countries if they were discreet. It is a matter of massive regret to me that the Liberal Democrats in government have not been able to stop the sort of nonsense that took place in that central London courtroom this week or that routinely takes place when LGBT asylum seekers are interviewed. The Home Office playbook reads like a bad 1970s sitcom, but its effects are far from funny.

We know that there is a strong commitment to LGBT equality across all of our ministers. I can’t imagine one of our parliamentarians who would attempt to justify the way the Home Office has behaved in this and other cases. We know that we have a minister there, Lynne Featherstone, who is one of the best and most informed on these issues. I am fairly certain that she will be as horrified as the rest of us about what these barristers are saying in the name of the Home Office.

The report of Sarah Teather’s All Party Group on immigration detention released this week revealed evidence of bullying and harassment of LGBT people within detention centres with, disgracefully, no action being taken to help them. From Page 68 which quotes Aderonke’s experience:

Within detention centres, LGBTI detainees told us that they face further persecution.

Aderonke told us about the abuse she received:

“…when I was in detention I had a homophobic attack for a period of one year, which the Home Office knows about.

Yarl’s Wood investigated it. They gave me a letter to say what I said was true, because half of the population of Yarl’s Wood is made up from people from my country, Nigeria, and I had this attack for over one year. Every day being abused, physically, emotionally, psychologically. And even people that I identify with who are of the same orientation with me sexually were also prosecuted because of their association with me.

“And I thought it was wrong because that was hate crime but it was never, ever treated as hate crime. It was never reported. I was just left there to go through that torture again. What I’ve been through in my country, I was going through it again in detention centres”.212

UKLGIG told us that Aderonke’s experiences were not uncommon. They said that “clients regularly report bullying, verbal abuse and threats of physical violence.” They added that while some staff members are sensitive to the needs of LGBTI detainees, this is not established across all the detention estate. Additionally, we were told that detainees who are victims of homophobic or transphobic attacks in detention are reluctant to make complaints as they believe this will negatively affect their asylum claim.

On one hand you have the Department for International Development working with other countries to combat discrimination against LGBT people as our Lindsay Northover outlined in a speech on Thursday and on the other you have the Home Office completely undermining that work by treating people in danger of persecution and death in their home countries so cruelly and unfairly. No government should get away with that.

So, what to do about it amid all the UKIP mythology of uncontrolled mass immigration? It’s got to be about raising public awareness. How would people like their LGBT friend, son or daughter being treated like this? I don’t often praise the Mirror, but they’ve put together a really informative quiz entitled “Does the Home Office think you’re gay?” Chances are it doesn’t. Even if you are. In fact, the explanations show how they have used contradictory statements to justify their decisions. For example, telling them you don’t go to gay clubs counts against you, but if you tell them you do, they say you’re lying because you can’t afford to.

It’s horrible that vulnerable people who face real dangers are being put in no-win situations. The next government must stop this happening. There really is no excuse. Sadly, experience tells us that we can’t expect Tories or Labour to do the right thing. It’s up to everyone who cares to campaign to change public opinion so that change is forced upon the Home Office.



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Lauren Salerno 7th Mar '15 - 8:08pm

    Our ministers may be committed to T issues but as they omit reference to us on most times it’s relevant to I begin to wonder

  • Philip Thomas 7th Mar '15 - 9:13pm

    There is a culture of refusal in the Home Office. The attitude towards LGBT asylum seekers is one of its ugliest manifestations, but it is endemic in the system. Instead of making an impartial judgment- is this person really in danger?- the Home Office seek every possible excuse for refusing an asylum claim. Little wonder so many refusals are overturned on appeal. The irony is that the Home Office doesn’t even (in very many cases) remove the failed asylum seekers from the United Kingdom: they are allowed to stay and claim again. So what was the point of refusing them?

  • Brenda Lana Smith 8th Mar '15 - 10:01am

    But for their happenstance right to be EU UK & NI passport holders… disenfranchised LGBTQI folk on the UK’s own British Overseas Territories would be denied sanctuary in Britain, too… which highlights the fact that when granting the approximately 200,000 British Overseas Territories citizens the right of abode in the UK on 2013-05-21… especially affording LGBTQI folk from these bastions of homo- trans- phobia a safer environment with the enjoyment of all the UK state benefits and protections that UK residents enjoy… more recently same-sex civil partnerships… even state funded chemo-surgical gender confirmation on Britain’s NHS—if one is not too impatient… and… UK Gender Recognition Act 2004 gender certification that doesn’t require sterilization but has little or no value outside Britain… one could cry shame on Britain’s New Labour prime minister Tony Blair at the time for not having obligated Britain’s self-governing British Overseas Territories—in exchange for these extended rights to 200,000 people—enshrine “sexual orientation “and “gender identity/presentation” as protected classifications in their human rights laws… but then Tony Blair’s own trans-phobic government wouldn’t reluctantly find itself so obligated to get its own trans folk discriminative human rights legislation in order until two months later by European Court of Human Rights judgements on 2002-07-11 favouring the two chemo-surgically intersexed applicants in “Goodwin v UK…” that shared… shamefully nothing has changed in the ensuing years vis-a-vis the institutionally inherent trans unfriendly policy of British government advisors…

  • Brenda Lana Smith 8th Mar '15 - 10:20am

    Correction Brenda Lana Smith 8th Mar ’15 – 10:01am The British Overseas Territories Act 2002… to wit: ‘which highlights the fact that when granting the approximately 200,000 British Overseas Territories citizens the right of abode in the UK on 2002-02-26…”

  • Stevan Rose 8th Mar '15 - 6:59pm

    The Home Office is not an organisation that doesn’t understand LGBT issues. Institutionally it is the most diverse of Government departments I have come across. It is unfair to blame the Home Office in general for the ignorance / ambition of a self employed barrister in this particular case. I cannot imagine any civil servant or minister sanctioning this kind of argument not least because of the ridicule it would attract. I suggest this is a rogue barrister and the Home Office needs to do little more than make that clear and refuse to engage barristers that resort to such despicable tactics.

    On the other matters you will find examples of unacceptable discrimination on many different grounds across all of society. In my personal observations I suggest that the Home Office is more advanced than most in terms of not tolerating discrimination. Bear in mind that in detention centres there will be many detainees that come from cultures that are inherently intolerant and conflicts will arise whatever the efforts of staff and policy makers.

    One last thing. It is incredible the lengths some people will go to to remain in the UK and pretending to be gay will have been tried numerous times. The barrister in this case was ignorant and undermined his own case. But these claims do need to be questioned and challenged when made.

  • Philip Thomas 8th Mar '15 - 7:11pm

    Oh, you think the barrister wasn’t acting on explicit instructions from the Home Office. That he exceeded his brief?
    Unfortunately we’ll never find out from the barrister, because of client confidentiality. Generally barristers are simply repeating the arguments made in the Reasons for Refusal letter, which is written by a Home Office official.

    But lets see, if that barrister appears for the Home Office in the future, that is probably a sign that he didn’t exceed his brief on this occasion…

    It is indeed a shame that the barriers to remaining in the United Kingdom are so high that people are tempted to make false claims: and where claims are obviously false they must be rejected. That is not the same thing as assuming everyone who claims to be gay is a liar unless proven otherwise.

  • Philip Thomas 8th Mar '15 - 8:10pm

    Given the nature and quality of argument I have seen put forward by the Home Office over the two and a half years I have had the dubious privilege of opposing them before the Immigration Tribunal, I have no difficulty in believing they instructed the barrister to say precisely what he said. Home Office closing submissions can sometimes resemble a UKIP party political broadcast…

  • Lauren Salerno 9th Mar '15 - 9:03am

    Stevan does no one claim to be Trans ?

  • Stevan Rose 9th Mar '15 - 5:51pm

    Do you suggest that all such claims should always be taken at face value; no-one would claim to be gay if they are not? Trans is somewhat easier to prove beyond doubt. I have worked closely with several LG and T staff in Home Office in the past, and probably B’s too without knowing. Whilst I don’t know the details of these individual cases I do know Home Office is generally very diverse and enlightened.

  • Philip Thomas 9th Mar '15 - 6:16pm

    No of course not, some people falsely claim to be gay. There is a principle in asylum law called “the Benefit of the Doubt”- which means exactly what it says on the tin: if someone claims to be gay and there is no hard evidence either way, then tBotD says they should be believed: but that is often not the Home Office approach.

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