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'I didn't want to be evil or different' - gay asylum seeker flees Uganda

'I didn't want to be evil or different' - gay asylum seeker flees Uganda

Scotland's equal rights movement shuddered forward during LGBT History Month 2014.

The first days of February saw the passing of our same-sex marriage bill; a legislative landmark in the fight for equal rights.

The Scottish people then made their own small stances against the persecution of homosexuals in Russia. As the controversy-plagued Winter Games 2014 began on Sochi slopes, an Aberdonian brewery boxed their own 'not for gays' Putin protest beer and shipped it off to the Kremlin, while Scots illustrator Jim'll Paint It made T-shirts depicting Putin as every member of the Village People, with proceeds of sales going to LGBT rights charity Stonewall.

Mid-February, the Scottish Government announced that a Pride House - a hub created specifically for LGBT people - would be erected during Glasgow's Commonwealth Games 2014 to tackle homophobia. The war for LGBT rights in Scotland is far from won, but February saw some latent cannons fired - trailing rainbow-coloured smoke in their wake.

  (© HEMEDIA / SWNS Group)
via STV via STV

Despite this, there are LGBT individuals in Glasgow who still live in terror.

People from countries like Uganda, where homosexuality is punishable with life-long imprisonment, and Nigeria, where the maximum penalty for same-sex relationships is death, flee persecution in their homelands to take refuge in Glasgow.

By the time they set foot in the city, many of them have been victims of torture, forced marriage, rape and have been ostracised from their communities for being gay.

"Back home, and in many African countries, being gay is something evil and taboo," said 23-year old Angela*, one of Glasgow's LGBT asylum seekers.

"I was born in the Congo but I came here from Uganda. Back home I couldn't tell anyone that I felt feelings for someone of the same sex, I couldn't come out and tell anyone.

"If you are made to believe you are evil, you don't want to accept your own feelings. I didn't want to be evil or different.

"In Scotland, you can love who you want to love. You are a human being and that's all that matters."

  (© HEMEDIA / SWNS Group)
via STV via STV

Angela attends a bi-monthly group run by UNITY that helps LGBT asylum seekers adjust to life in Glasgow.

The atrocities individuals faced in their home countries, compounded by the instability of life as an asylum seeker, can make it difficult for LGBT people to socialise or make friends. The UNITY LGBT group arranges social outings for members, supports them with asylum cases and allows them to engage more fluidly with Glasgow life.

Many LGBT asylum seekers are afraid to interact with the refugee and asylum seeker community, remaining haunted by the discrimination they faced in the past.

"Many of the people who come to the Glasgow group left high profile jobs behind in their home countries," said Annie Marshall, coordinator at UNITY's LGBT group.

"They were teachers, business people, they worked high up in the finance industry. They leave everything there to come here and be in an incredibly unsettling situation. Some members have faced a lot of sexual violence and torture, have been ostracised from their communities and are scared for their life to return.

"To tell the truth and get here in the first place takes them so much, then to arrive and for that to be disbelieved has as an awful psychological effect."

The burden of proof

One of the greatest problems facing LGBT asylum seekers is providing proof.

For the average Scot, the concept of giving the authorities evidence of personal sexual preference may seem invasive and perverse, but this is the reality faced by many of those fighting for the right to stay in Scotland.

In order to avoid being deported to the communities that persecute them, LGBT asylum seekers must prove to the Home Office that they deserve asylum. One previous member of Glasgow's LGBT asylum community was told by a church elder from his village that he would be lynched if he did not repent for his sins.

“Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are among the world’s most persecuted," said Gary Christie, Head of Policy at Scottish Refugee Council.

"In many countries, LGBTI people are subjected to harassment, arrest, interrogation, torture and attacks.

"Scottish Refugee Council regularly sees men and women from countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, Gambia or Iran, persecuted because of their sexual orientation who have had to leave everything behind.

“Recent developments in Uganda [the introduction of anti-gay laws] are deeply alarming. However equally shocking is the treatment that LGBTI people often face in the UK’s asylum system."

Prior to a Supreme Court ruling in 2010, 'voluntary discretion' - keeping sexuality a secret - was emphasised as a legitimate way for asylum seekers to avoid persecution in their own countries. Nowadays, individuals must be able to live 'freely and openly' in their home country, rather than conceal their natural preference.

thedccenter

In Angela's home country of Uganda, February did not usher in a wave of progress for LGBT rights as it did here. On February 24, President Museveni passed an anti-homosexuality bill into law, making deportation an ever more frightening prospect for Ugandans seeking asylum in the UK.

"Before the LGBT group it was really hard to meet people and socialise in Glasgow," said Angela.

"Meeting people who are like you really helps, it makes you stop thinking about your situation. They talk to you, support you and give you confidence. The group is wonderful and we're trying to make it stronger.

"Glasgow is a really great place, the people are so lovely here."

*Angela's name has been changed to protect her identity.

If you would like to support UNITY's LGBT group or find more information, visit their website.

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