Asylum Seekers and “Dishonest” Sexualities: Bisexuality at the Border

32-year-old Orashia Edwards, a bisexual man and long-term resident of Leeds, was denied asylum yesterday by the UK Home Office as Judge Clive Heaton QC declared that Edwards was being “dishonest” about his sexuality. No justification was given for this verdict, but Edwards has a 14-month-old child in the UK and has expressed frustration at the assumption that he could “fit in” with straight people in Jamaica.

Edwards was scheduled to be deported this morning but his flight was cancelled at the last minute. While this has granted him temporary reprieve, his future remains uncertain; without refugee status, Edwards could still be detained and/or deported at any time. He has no family in Jamaica and is likely to face violence and discrimination on the basis of his sexual orientation and now public persona.

Edwards' relatives and supporters in Leeds, UK via Yorkshire Standard

Edwards’ relatives and supporters in Leeds, UK
via Yorkshire Standard

The failures of the UK immigration system to protect vulnerable LGBT asylum seekers from persecution are well-documented: LGBT asylum claims have a 98-99% failure rate (compared to 73% for claims in general), some asylum seekers have been driven or coerced to go as far as submitting home sex tapes to “prove” their sexuality, and Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre in particular has come under scrutiny for abuses committed against women asylum seekers. The Home Office denies that it is biased, though Home Secretary Theresa May called for a review of officers’ handling of asylum claims made by gay and lesbian applicants earlier this year. This review has yet to materialise.

Edwards’ case, however, highlights the specific concerns bisexual asylum seekers face at the border. While the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that LGB asylum seekers cannot simply be told to go home and “be discreet,” the difficulties of “proving” one’s sexuality remain as difficult as ever — if not even more so now — in a climate of institutionalized disbelief and public scaremongering about “illegal immigrants” and “fradulent asylum claims.” The dominance of assumptions of binary monosexuality and the “born this way” narrative, assessing the legitimacy of asylum seekers’ sexual orientation based on their sexual behaviour and relationship history, and disproportionately white, male and straight judges mean that bisexual people are far less likely to pass the “gay enough” test to qualify for asylum.

In January, Colin Yeo of the Free Movement blog revealed questions posed by immigration officers to a bisexual asylum seeker in detention.

What did you do with x?
Did you do anything other than kissing x?
Where did this happen?
How often did you have intercourse together?
Is that every day?
Did you put your penis into x’s backside?
When x was penetrating you did you have an erection?
Did you ejaculate?
Did x ejaculate inside you?
Why did you use a condom?
How do you show your sexuality when you are in the UK?
How does that display you are bisexual?
Why have you got to behave as a bisexual in [country]?
That was with x only and he initiated the contact you claim. Why can’t you return and live a full life there?

Can we really expect the UK Home Office to believe the stories of bisexual asylum seekers (and others who deviate from expected gay narratives, including those who came out later in life and asexual people) when gay activism and media coverage often replicate similar dynamics of biphobia and bi invisibility? Non-monosexual asylum seekers are not only interrogated on their sexual and relationship histories but are expected to “display” their sexuality in rigid, restricted ways even while in the UK, when it is exactly scrutiny of their sexual orientation and lives that they are escaping. At the intersections of biphobia and sexism, queer women, who often experience different forms of violence and discrimination (particularly with regard to domestic and sexual violence) and are more likely to have been married to men before or to bring children with them into the country, are especially vulnerable to being dismissed by the Home Office.

Activists rallied in May in support of Aidah Asaba, a Ugandan woman whose asylum application failed because courts did not believe she was a lesbian, with her having been married to an abusive male partner via The Guardian

Activists rallied in May in support of Aidah Asaba, a Ugandan woman whose asylum application failed because courts did not believe she was a lesbian, with her having been married to an abusive male partner
via The Guardian

Edwards is being supported by his family and immigration justice groups Leeds for Change and No Borders Leeds. There has been an online petition directed at the Home Office to keep him here, a fundraiser for his legal fees, and the hashtag #DefendOrashia to keep track of updates on his case.

The fate of LGB asylum seekers, Edwards included, cannot be contingent on fickle media attention and Twitter mentions. Without a more comprehensive overhaul of the asylum system — and an acknowledgement of and move to redress the wider queer community’s complicity in biphobia and bi invisiblity — vulnerable people will continue to be sentenced to the very real risk of violence and harm.

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Politiqueer, student and future cubicle drone-person fond of trees, bicycles, and strawberry sponge cake. Abuses en-dashes. Undecided about the Oxford comma. Follow her on Twitter or her occasionally updated blog.

Fikri has written 43 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. Thumb up 6

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    It unbelievable, unethical, and frankly sociopathic that the UK thinks it’s acceptable to require that a refugee submit pornography to government officials in order to attain asylum. Wtf happened to treating people who are ALREADY in distress with some basic human dignity? When nearly ONE-HUNDRED PERCENT of LGBT applicants are being denied, why don’t they just drop the pretense and “come out” as they bigoted hypocrites that refuse to grant asylum to those people on the basis LGBT status.

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    Thank you for writing this, Fikri! I think you did a great job illustrating how hegemonic ideas of bisexuality’s “reality” and the flawed ways in which we try to measure it socially are linked to real life-or-death forms of oppression. Donating to Orashia’s fundraiser!

  3. Thumb up 1

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    This totally effed situation is well known in Britain… it was even included in a TV soap story line. It just seems that very few people care.
    I think this is mainly because there is a preoccupation with the many other immigration issues in the mainstream media to start with -the Romanians are invading-but they’re not. Also they just gave us gay marriage so what more do we want… This is an unacceptable attitude but it’s the one our Government have.
    Because immigration is a hot button issue, which elections are won and lost over right now, I really can’t see anything changing with how LGBTQ asylum seekers are treated until post general election. If UKIP or the Tories get/retain power we should probably all emigrate anyway.

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    Word, I cannot believe how invasive the questions were. I actually work part-time at a law firm in downtown Manhattan that concentrates in immigration law and has helped many queer folks get asylum, and I don’t think this particular firm would have found that sort of questioning at all acceptable.

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      No lawyer was present at the meeting (which afaik is pretty common for asylum seekers in detention). Here’s what Colin Yeo had to say about it:

      But this kind of questioning isn’t only limited to Home Office interviews(/interrogations) in private spaces — it’s not unheard of for judges to ask similar questions in the audience of many more people, lawyers included.

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    I definitely understand how wrong this is and so forth, but from the state’s point of view how do you prove that someone has a legitimate LGB based asylum claim?

    If there are no criteria then non-LGB can abuse the system but how do you prove your sexuality if you’ve come from a country where open expressions of your sexuality are illegal or too risky, or where you lack the control to enact your sexuality?

    I don’t think there is a particularly simple or right answer to this even though evidently the border agency could obviously do with a massive overhaul including some basic education about bisexuality, tact and human decency.

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      I feel like proving the applicant’s identity is the wrong point of focus. Sure there should be some sort of verification activity, but why not focus on collecting evidence that there’s an unsafe environment? I’m sure the people doing the discriminating don’t require the level of proof Fikri described before unloosing their hatred.

  6. Thumb up 3

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    I really wish I could do something more about this than write words online :(
    But I don’t live in the UK.

    The issues around bi erasure, especially by those in positions of power are a cause near to my heart… the mess with erasure of trans* women’s bisexuality by the medical establishment in particular has probably contributed to me still not being clear about it all (I just call myself panromantic and leave it at that)… it’s similar in that it’s a member of a power-holding class basically saying “prove your sexuality fits in with my criteria or you’ll be harmed.” and that’s wrong.

    I hope complains for LGB Asylum Seekers don’t just stop there, but actually address the core issue of an elite, power holding class judging who’s identities are valid.
    It does real harm in society and these wrong ideas really need to be challenged – especially in the Asylum scenario, I find myself thinking how entirely arbitrary cis, straight people’s ideas of what queer identities are… the bitter arguments I’ve seen complete strangers have over the sexual orientation of my partners… I won’t go into that, the striking thing relevant here is not one straight cis person ever, ever suggests that either of us are bi.

    Yet, according to heteronormative, cis-centric point of view… if I have a boyfriend, that makes him gay.. but if I have a girlfriend she’s still gay (and therefore some how deserving of oppression), yet some how suspect as a lesbian (on mere suspicion that a penis might be involved?)… it’s clearly apparent these ideas are self-contradictory and worse still… as a bi woman I feel rather erased – My whole life I’ve tended to display a lot of fluidity in who I’m attracted to, often changing as a result of trust-restoring experiences. Yet I’m constantly made out as not bi because of any number of crackpot theories.
    The real reason I’m no longer “observably bi” is because the cross-fire of that “cotton ceiling” shit storm that went nuclear a couple of years ago has left me too screwed up mental health wise to act on feelings for women… they are definitely still there, but I’m choosing not to act on them until my issues are more resolved by therapy so I might have a hope in hell of giving any lovely woman who chooses to share her life with me a remotely decent & healthy relationship.

    Is it really so much of a stretch to think it’s the same deal for him, except choosing not to act on feelings for the same sex so you don’t get executed?
    I’d expect that to have a very strong effect on a person’s sexual & relationship history.
    Hell, I’d probably be screwed if I had to “prove” I wasn’t straight by that standard.. Ironically everyone in town “knows” I’m a lesbian. The occasional times I’ve been seen around town hand in hand with a guy were quickly forgotten – simply looking a little tough & edgy being sufficient “evidence” for the purpose of the usual street harassment, yet only a stereotyped, binarist standard applies if someone might actually benefit from their queerness?

    I’m hoping more coverage of the treatment of GLB Asylum Seekers will help straight cis people with questioning minds become aware of the true impact of black & white, stereotyped thinking. Especially if the harm privilege does is ever to be unwraveled .
    I’m probably gonna be disappointed right?

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    Until August last year I lived in Leeds and I am pleased that Orashia will have good people and support groups to help him and his family. The city has a strong LGBTQ scene which I hope will pull together for him.

    As a UK resident this whole thing makes me feel sick to my stomach. As a white bi girl I have found it hard enough to come out as bi to friends, so I can’t even begin to imagine the horrific situation that our immigration authorities are putting this young man through. As someone else mentioned immigration is such a hot topic in this country and our rightwing media uses scare mongering to blow statistics out of proportion. Stories such as Orashia’s simply get lost in the reports of Eastern European people coming to ‘take all the jobs’ and ‘abuse the benefits system’.

    Thank you Fikri for bringing this to a wider audience through Autostraddle.

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