An immigration judge in the United Kingdom has caused a storm amongst LGBT rights activists after he rejected an asylum seeker’s claims that he was gay. Whilst full details of the case have not been revealed, the asylum seeker, according to reporting from the Guardian newspaper, claimed he was fleeing his country due to fears for his own safety. The judge denied the application for asylum in the first-tier immigration tribunal in London because the man did not have a gay “demeanor.” The claimant’s barrister compared the ruling to “something from the 16th century,” with LGBT activists voicing their disapproval. But what does this case tell us of the treatment of LGBT asylum seekers, and is it indicative of the Brexit-torn country’s future immigration stance?
Gay men face the death penalty in 14 countries across the world. The European Union is comparatively accepting of LGBT people on the global stage, yet lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-Europeans continue to face other forms of prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, the UK is ranked eighth in the EU in terms of LGBT rights. The country remains a popular place for LGBT people to settle from continental Europe and further afield. So it is perhaps unsurprising that such an outdated view of LGBT people being expressed in a court of law has caused a stir amongst activists and human rights defenders.
The judge exemplified why he thought the claimant was lying about his sexuality. The claimant’s witness - also a gay man - wore lipstick to court. The judge commented on this, suggesting that claimant’s appearance did not mirror that of other gay men. Moreover, the judge said that the witness had an “effeminate way of looking around the room” and that he was able to demonstrate his sexuality by his membership of an LGBT organization.
It is baffling that a judge would make such comments, which are deep-rooted in stigma towards gay men. These comments have no place in a court of law, nor in our society, and suggesting that somebody should “prove” their sexuality is nonsensical. In fact, I would argue that it mirrors practices in countries where homosexuality is illegal. Only a few years have passed since the United Nations called on the government of Tunisia to ban doctors practicing forced anal examinations of men who were “suspected” of being gay; practices that were deemed by the intergovernmental organization as a human rights infringement. There is no medical evidence to support claims that such examinations enable authorities to determine somebody’s sexuality.
Whilst the judge’s comments do not equate to these kinds of barbaric practices in countries where it is illegal to be gay, they do set the UK down a slippery slope. The stereotyping of gay men during the 1980s and 1990s, fuelled by homophobic government legislation and media coverage, resulting in a societal fear of gay men and the broader LGBT community. The discourse surrounding the HIV crisis, and the insinuation from Margaret Thatcher that gay men threatened the values of her country, caused the isolation of this group within society. Poor mental health amongst LGBT people is often cited alongside discrimination and societal stigma, demonstrating the negative consequences such comments can have on those who hear them. These views belong in the past and have no place in today’s society.
What’s more, the judge’s comments also raise questions about the attitudes of authorities towards LGBT people. If a judge felt so at ease by making such offensive remarks, it begs the question of the extent to which homophobia can creep into immigration rulings and other Home Office matters. Arguably Prime Minster Johnson calling gay men “tank-topped bumboys” has the potential to give the green light to senior officials to make future comments of this nature, or use offensive views towards minorities to defend everything from court rulings to immigration policies.
The UK is currently going through a challenging time in its history as it attempts to divorce the EU. Whilst I am not suggesting that everybody who voted for Brexit is prejudiced, Brexit certainly caused a seismic shift of the political landscape, with offensive comments oozing through the fault lines. Racist and xenophobic comments seem to have found a rebirth amongst the general public, elected representatives and the media. Global politics, namely the throw-away comments made by President Donald Trump about immigrants, have further galvanized a once quiet minority within British society.
Such discriminatory views about immigration have also spilled across all aspects of society, perhaps in part demonstrated by the number of homophobic hate crimes doubling since 2014, with transphobic hate crimes trebling. This immigration case might be indicative of the need for reform, such as building bridges between courts and LGBT organizations, to ensure LGBT people are being treated fairly by the Home Office.
It is clear that the judge, in this case, lost all objectivity and prioritized his own archaic homophobic views when passing a judgment, which has the potential for devastating consequences for the claimant. Whilst the comments he made raises further questions about the influence of outmoded stigma creeping its way into future rulings, I would argue that they are symptomatic of broader societal unrest. At a time when the UK has never been more divided and lacking in empathy for minority groups, the country is in need of a unifying force to carry it through the next chapter of its history. I fear that the views expressed by the country’s current leadership are only validating such stigmatizing comments.
Hadley Stewart is a London-based writer, broadcaster and journalist.