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Homophobia, Transphobia, and Refugee Rights: Braverman's Attack on LGBT Asylum-Seekers

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Opinion Piece

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In a recent speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute, UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman denigrated asylum claims on the grounds of LGBT persecution. This pertains firstly to Braverman’s persistent attack on international refugee protection laws but also follows mounting homophobia and transphobia in the UK.

Braverman condemns as insufficient any claim for asylum on the grounds of “being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin”, because there are “vast swathes of the world where it is extremely difficult to be gay, or to be a woman.” She goes on to criticise the ambiguities in international refugee laws which she alleges have paved the way for the enduring migrant crisis burdening Europe.

In keeping with most of the Home Secretary’s commentary on the asylum system, this speech is incredibly misleading and has been rebuked by the UN’s refugee agency. Singling out people seeking asylum on the grounds of persecution of their gender identity or sexuality, Braverman gives the impression that such claims make up a significant proportion of asylum claims. In reality, people claiming asylum on the grounds of LGBT persecution make up less than 2% of all claims, with many people seeking asylum being unaware that such a claim is even possible.

Secondly, Braverman dangerously downplays the severity of LGBT persecution experienced by people across the world. Homosexuality is illegal in 69 countries around the world. In Afghanistan, a Taliban judge has ruled that gay men should be executed by being stoned to death. In Iran, homosexual activity is punishable by death. To reiterate Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw’s pithy response, “She [Braverman] doesn’t seem to grasp that simply being gay is enough to result in persecution or death in many countries.”

It is also crucial to remember that of the 69 countries where homosexuality is illegal, two-thirds were formerly under the duress of British colonial rule. Anti-LGBT laws in these countries are the regrettable legacies of British colonialism, as admitted by former Prime Minister, Theresa May in 2018. Britain is morally accountable for the welfare and safety of the people experiencing persecution which is traceable to British colonial rule.

Braverman’s attack on LGBT people seeking asylum aligns with the government’s augmenting discriminatory rhetoric. At the recent annual Conservative Party Conference, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak verbally attacked trans people for their mere existence. With conviction, Sunak told the crowd that "we shouldn't get bullied into believing that anyone can be any sex they want to be. A man is a man. A woman is a woman. That's just common sense." Later, Health Secretary Steve Barclay announced government plans to ban trans people from male-only and female-only hospital spaces – a plan Braverman whole-heartedly supports.

Perhaps the government’s overt anti-LGBT rhetoric is in response to the appalling rise in homophobic hate crimes in the UK. Shocking Home Office statistics reveal that homophobic hate crime increased by over 40% in the year from April 2021 to March 2022 with transphobic hate crime increasing by almost 60%. In Europe, the UK ranks below France, Spain, Portugal, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, Belgium and Greece in LGBT human rights.

Revoking refugee status from – and then deporting - those who have fled persecution based on their gender identity or sexuality is no doubt a goal of Braverman. However, it is only part of her vehement vision to invest in a complete ban on any person from claiming asylum if they arrived in the UK “illegally”. Let’s not forget that last year, she constructed a plan to increase the use of detention facilities and to introduce legislation to prevent the ECHR, or any other group motivated by morality, from blocking deportations of refugees and people seeking asylum. Revealing just how insipidly depraved and warped her motivations were, Braverman stated that it is her “dream” and her “obsession” to successfully breach international law and send people seeking asylum to detention centres in Rwanda.

Braverman’s speech is motivated not only by her xenophobia but also a pernicious attempt to ignite further divisions within British society. In doing so, she inadvertently proves that refugee rights are inextricable from LGB rights, trans rights, and women’s rights. Therefore, to stand against racism and xenophobia, we must also stand up for the rights of women and the rights of LGBT people internationally.


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