Webinar: Breaking the Silence about LGBTIQ Refugees

On the 18th of June in the context of World Refugee Day and the Pride Month, Forcibly Displaced Network held a webinar titled Breaking the Silence About LGBTIQ+ Refugees. 

We aimed to discuss the experiences of LGBTIQ+ forced displacements that often fall off the agenda and offer action points for those wanting to support these communities. Webinar presenters included: 

  • Elena Fox, a board director of Forcibly Displaced People Network, living in regional VIC; 
  • Zandile, a nursing student, living on a TPV in regional NSW; 
  • Azlan, a community organiser from Melbourne; 
  • Ashker, a community representative for LGBTIQ people seeking asylum from Sydney; 
  • Aisya, a final year PhD student working on Muslim transgender women issues and refugees; and 
  • Gaelle, a professional athlete. 

We are thankful to all attendees who have joined the webinar from various locations in Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, South Africa, Belgium and Thailand. We thank you for your commitment to learn, to be better allies and to those who are sharing their lived experience to show up in solidarity. 

Summary of discussions

Below is the summary of discussions. We note the gaps in our discussion and that not all experiences were covered such as issues related to intersex people, bisexual people or people with disabilities. 

  1. Lack of representation of LGBTIQ+ people seeking asylum and refugees 

LGBTIQ+ people seeking asylum and refugees remain marginalised because of the continued erasure of their experiences. For example, during the Refugee Week or in any COVID-related advocacy, it has been rare that a mainstream refugee organisation would themselves (not simply sharing already existing content) acknowledge the existence of this group and particular challenges they may experience. 

  • Lesbian, queer and trans women’s experiences of forced displacement 

Discussions or support provided to LGBTIQ+ forcibly displaced folks often does not take gender in account. There are no specific services for lesbian, queer and trans women who have experienced forced displacement. There have been cases where lesbian women seeking asylum were placed in mixed gender housing exposing them to risks of violence and abuse. Often there is no specific dedicated information either, for example on sexual health encompassing both sexuality and migration experiences or related barriers. 

  • Trans people’s experiences of forced displacement

Trans people experience challenges with access to document, uninterrupted hormone treatments, access to change names and gender markers. Without income support, some people are driven into homelessness and survival sex. 

  • Impact of COVID in the context of seeking asylum 

The impact of COVID has been devastating on the LGBTIQ people seeking asylum. People on bridging visas were among the first ones to lose employment. Without access to income support many were not able to pay their rent or afford food. Read more here

  • Uncertainty of life on a temporary protection visa 

LGBTIQ+ people who are living on a temporary protection visas remain in uncertainty. Zandile said:

“Being on a TPV for me means that there are 50/50 chances of me being granted permanent protection and a chance of rejection. If that happens, I would be forced to go back to my country of birth where I faced and will continue to face persecution”.

Living on a temporary protection visas causes anxiety, stress. It demotivates you. it forced people to remember, retell and relive the horrors they’ve experienced every time they need to reapply for protection. 

Temporary protection visa regime is punitive especially in the context of LGBTIQ+ forced displacement as it is highly unlikely that significant progress upholding the rights of LGBTIQ+ persons will be made. For example, in Mexico despite same-sex marriage being legal in the Mexico city, murders of LGBTIQ+ persons remain extremely high. 

  • Impact of detention 

The Canberra Statement on the access to safety and justice for LGBTIQ people seeing asylum and refugees states that LGBTIQ+ people should not be detained as anyone else seeking safety. Yet it has been proven that in detention LGBTIQ+ people are at further risk of violence and abuse. 

Questions asked by attendees: 

  • LGBTI refugee as a result of the climate crisis- as an organisation have you received any cases from this or do you have any resources/advocates or organisations working on this that you can share?

In 2015, The Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Land and Development (APWLD) released a Statement from LGBTI and indigenous women affected by climate change that stated: “LGBTI people experience various forms of discrimination and risks when climate change crises happen.” 

It has been well established that during natural disasters access to support and safety for groups that are already marginalised remains restricted. At the 2019 Queer Displacements conference the issues of climate change and LGBTIQ people have been discussed. We refer you to the work of Ken Moala, Pacific Sexual & Gender Diversity Network, ILGA Oceania; 350.org organisation and Planet Ally. 

  • Is it not easy to identify LGBTIQ+ groups who can help refugees or not enough groups?

There are currently not enough groups that are run by and for LGBTIQ+ refugees. You can check service directory here and add your services. 

There are also structural barriers with the access to services such as a lack of training on LGBTIQ+ inclusion or cultural competency, no visible signs of inclusion, potential homo/transphobia or racism from other clients etc. 

  • Changing the system is a process and best case scenario, it will take time. Meanwhile, how to build bridges in very practical terms between the FDPN and organizations supporting displaced populations in general? 

Any organisation that is working with people who have been forcibly displaced need to embed intersectional gender approaches to policy and practice. One size never fits all. We must remain attentive to specific clients’ needs, their situations and marginalisations. As FDPN we are asking organisations to sign up to and implement Canberra Statement. We also offer training sessions to understand the cause and improve their response. 

  • How can we support the Forcibly Displaced People Network? 
  • Share and promote our work and content. 
  • Has anyone experienced good relationships with second generation migrants/refugees from your cultural background that’s LGBTIQ?

There has been much work done by LGBTIQ+ persons from migrant and refugee backgrounds. For example, check out the work of Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council

  • What is being done on legal front, for reforms or making the process easier, any legal petitions or any prominent lawyers doing any activism etc.

Check out the program and report of the 2019 Queer Displacements conference. Legal realm has been one where more attention has been paid to the issues of LGBTIQ+ forced displacement.

To sum up, so what can you do? 

  1. Affirm the rights of LGBTIQ+ people who have experienced forced displacement. Sign on to the Canberra Statement here.
  2. Learn how to be a better ally
  3. Be intersectional in your approaches to policy, practice and research.
  4. Donate to support our work.

We thank WESNET for providing access to webinar technology for this event to happen.