The UK Home Office — the government department responsible for processing asylum cases as well as other immigration matters — has rejected an asylum application from Aderonke Apata, a lesbian from Nigeria, because they don't believe she is really gay.
Apparently, in the Home Office's view, "lesbian" is a status akin to virginity: one step off the path of homosexuality and one's lesbianism is gone forever, never to be regained.
The Telegraph reports that Andrew Bird, the lawyer who represented the Home Office in Apata's case, argued that Apata couldn't be considered a part of the "social group known as lesbians," even though she had "indulged in same-sex activity."
"You can't be a heterosexual one day and a lesbian the next day. Just as you can't change your race," Bird claimed at her hearing.
Apata's asylum claim
Aderonke Apata, 47, came to the UK in 2004, and is an award-winning activist for LGBT rights. According to The Independent, Apata has presented evidence that her former girlfriend, brother, and three-year-old son have already been killed in vigilante violence relating to her homosexuality. And if that weren't enough evidence of the danger she faces in her home country, homosexuality is a crime in Nigeria. If she returns, she could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.
And yet the Home Office refuses to recognize her claim, because in their view, the fact that she once had a heterosexual relationship that produced children — even though she claims it was a sham marriage intended to cover up her relationship with a woman — means she cannot be a lesbian, and thus cannot be eligible for asylum on the basis of her sexual orientation.
Out of desperation, Apata and her fiancée, Happiness Agboro, have even submitted photos and videos documenting their sex life as evidence in her case. Despite having subjected themselves to such an appalling intrusion into their privacy, the Home Office has refused to change its ruling.
The UK's humiliating treatment of LGBT asylum-seekers
Apata's case is only the most recent example of serious problems with the way that the UK handles asylum cases from LGBT individuals. Under international and UK law, people who fear persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation are eligible for asylum. But a report leaked last October revealed that Home Office officials were subjecting LGBT asylum seekers to degrading and unreasonable interrogations, and applying unreasonable factual standards to their cases.
According to the Guardian, the report found that a bisexual asylum seeker had been subjected to an "interrogation" that demanded he reveal deeply personal, private details about his past sexual activity. He was forced to answer questions about whether he had anally penetrated his partner, whether he had an erection when his partner was penetrating him, whether his partner had ejaculated inside of him, and why he used a condom with that partner.
The investigator also demanded that the applicant explain "What is it about men's backsides that attracts you?" and "What is it about the way men walk that turns you on?"
Such questioning is appallingly disrespectful. It's also irrelevant. LGBT individuals face persecution abroad because of their perceived sexual orientation, their violation of local gender norms, and laws criminalizing homosexual activity — not because they can be proven to be gay through details of their sexual fantasies, or an insufficiently robust record of heterosexual sex.
But until the Home Office recognizes that, people like Aderonke Apata will be in danger of being deported and persecuted.