I who may well be...

Musings from the perspective of a human being who may well be not locatable completely within the usual categories of male or female or gay or straight or transsexual or intersexed or exploiter or exploited or supplier or consumer or performer or spectator.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Big Visit to Villawood this Sat leave Central 12:15

A contingent of people to visit the people held prisoner by the private company Global Solutions on behalf of the Department of Immigration and Mutlicultual Atrocities is happening this Saturday, September 23. We're leaving Sydney/Central at 12:15, to arrive at Villawood after 1pm. If you're late, you can catch the next train (to Leightonfield) and meet us after 2pm.

Bring photo ID, and be prepared for a security clothes/body search, surrendering your dignity to the authorities, and the countless petty mindless cruelties of authoritarian mandatoy detention, because YOU get to walk back out again in a few hours, and it's the least you can do against this cruelty being prepetuated in the name of US, the people of Australia.

If you want to bring in food or cigarettes, these must be in unopened store-sealed condition.

Come on, resistance to oppression is not just chanting anti-Howard slogans and theorising about post-colonial exploitation. Here's a real grass roots response, assistance you can give to real people locked up by the Authoritarians and Profiteers, meaningful support for real humans. Without you and me, they may have no friends in this country (outside the concentration camps) at all.

Here's an article about refugees and detention from my good friend and staunch activisit, Farida Iqbal:


Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Intersex Refugees in Australia
Farida Iqbal

On the 23rd of September activists from Community Action Against Homophobia and the NSW Queer Students Network will visit LGBTI refugees in Villawood detention centre. The LGBTI protest movement has been active in building the movement for refugee rights for several years. Pro-refugee floats have been organised in the Sydney Mardi Gras and the Perth Pride parade. "Queer blocs" have been organised for several refugee rights protests, including a twenty-strong queer contingent at the Easter convergence at Villawood detention centre earlier this year.

Many LGBTI refugees have experienced bashings, torture, sexual assault or imprisonment as punishment for their sexuality or gender identity. Seventy-seven countries around the world carry legal penalties for homosexuality. In some countries this includes the death penalty. Right-wing puppet regimes brought to power as a result of US intervention in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan are often particularly harsh in their treatment of LGBTI people.

LGBTI refugees not only flee from government persecution, but also from their families and religious right-wing vigilante groups. State repression encourages "grass roots" homophobia to flourish, and LGBTI people cannot seek the assistance of the police when homosexuality or transgenderism are illegal. Often, the police are just as brutal in their treatment of LGBTI people as vigilante groups are.

In her paper "Imagining otherness: Refugee claims on the basis of sexuality in Canada and Australia," legal academic Jenni Millbank examined 204 cases of refugees seeking asylum in Australia on the basis of homophobic persecution between 1994 and 2000. Out of these, 42 were lesbians, one was transsexual and the rest were gay men. These categories of "gay", "lesbian" and "transsexual" are not hard and fast, given that there are different conceptions of sexuality in different cultures, and that Millbank’s paper does not include data about bisexuals.

The Australian Refugee Review Tribunal has a record of harsh and unrealistic treatment of queer refugees. Millbank argues that the judgement Australian Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) has been much harsher on LGBTI applicants than the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Out of the 204 cases examined, 26% of gay men were accepted, and an appalling 7% of lesbians. The RRT has rejected LGBTI refugee claims in the past on the basis that refugees fleeing homophobic persecution could be safe in their home country if they were discreet about their sexuality. This trend has turned around since 2004, when the High Court overturned an RRT ruling that a gay couple from Bangladesh could safely return if they were discreet about their sexuality.

Yet this landmark decision has not resulted in an increase in successful sexuality- based refugee claims. The RRT continues to be just as harsh as it always has been, but for different reasons. To seek asylum in this country on the basis of homophobic persecution, refugees must prove that they are queer in court. This is an unreasonable expectation. It is not always something that can be easily proven, particularly if an asylum seeker has been isolated in the closet. It is often more difficult to prove for lesbians, because women tend to live less publicly than men. Being queer means different things in different cultures, and Refugee Review Tribunal case managers often demonstrate a very eurocentric understanding of what it means to be gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual.

The case of one Iranian man was rejected on the grounds that "the Tribunal was surprised to observe such a comprehensive inability on the Applicant’s part to identify any kind of emotion-stirring or dignity-arousing phenomena in the world around him". As examples of such "dignity arousing phenomena" the Tribunal suggested the asylum seeker could have mentioned Oscar Wilde, Alexander the Great, Andre Gide, Greco-Roman wrestling, Bette Midler, or Madonna (WAAG vs. MIMIA 2004). The RRT decision is insensitive not only because of the expectation that an Iranian man should cite such Western cultural references, but also because not all gays are interested in Greco-Roman wrestling or Madonna. This is not even in the case in the West. Further, closeted, traumatised people are often understandably not "out and proud" enough to give rousing speeches about gay pride in an intimidating legal setting.

Refugees sometimes hide their history of homophobic persecution and attempt to seek asylum on another basis because they sense that it is difficult to seek asylum on the basis of homophobic persecution in Australia. Yet the harsh treatment of LGBTI refugees is also a reflection of harsh treatment of refugees in general.

The outcomes of LGBTI refugee cases tend to differ on the basis of their country of origin, despite the assertion of the RRT that it judges claims on a case-by-case basis. Middle Eastern LGBTI refugees tend to have a higher success rate than Chinese LGBTI refugees. The RRT makes decisions based on the general level of homophobic persecution in the applicant’s country of origin. Yet the tribunal has a history of relying on unreliable, over-generalised anecdotal assertions about the circumstances of gays in particular countries. If the Spartacus gay travel guide says your country has plenty of gay cruising areas, beaches and nightclubs, the RRT reasons that this means your claim must be false. The tribunal has even used evidence based on the freedom and status of gay men to assess the claims of lesbian refugees. Yet there are often vast differences between the circumstances of gay men and lesbians.

Lesbian refugees tend to make less onshore claims than gay men. Women around the world tend to be poorer than men and find it more difficult to leave the country to make an onshore claim. The poor success rate of lesbian refugees is also a reflection of the Australian legal system’s attitude toward women. Homophobic violence against lesbian refugees has much in common with violence against women in general – it tends to occur in private rather than public spaces, and sexual assault is commonly used as a form of homophobic violence. Millbank identifies a strong trend of the RRT to dismiss the persecution of lesbians as "domestic" or "personal". In one 1999 case a lesbian from Bolivia had been harassed and sexually assaulted by men in her neighborhood after a male relative had "outed" her ‘because he hoped that if they all insulted and attacked her, she would change.’ The RRT decided that this persecution was "a purely private matter and is not ... for reasons of the Applicant’s membership of a particular social group of homosexuals." Rape and domestic violence are tacitly understood as normal by the Australian legal system.

Mandatory detention, a torturous existence, can be particularly isolating for queer refugees. Many find it impossible to meet other LGBTI people. There is no support service in Australia that caters specifically to the needs of LGBTI refugees. Religious groups that offer support to refugees often do not meet the needs of LGBTI clients. There is also a history of homophobic practices in Australian detention centres. In one instance a gay male couple in a long term relationship were detained in separate compounds because Australian Correctional Management did not recognise their relationship.

People who are refused asylum from the RRT get deported back to their country of origin. People have been deported back to countries where they potentially face the death penalty for homosexuality.

The LGBTI protest movement has supported the refugee movement as a whole, not simply demanding freedom for queer refugees, but freedom for all refugees. LGBTI people and refugees have both been persecuted by the Howard government. Activists dubbed the 2004 same sex marriage ban a case of "queers overboard", recognising the same-sex marriage ban was a cynical electioneering tactic echoing the scaremongering that refugees threw their children overboard.

There are several LGBTI refugees who are free today because the broader community stood up for them. LGBTI refugees have benefited from their contact with LGBTI activists, refugee rights activists, and the queer community in Australia. This contact has meant they have been less isolated, and has assisted in the success of their cases. This is also testament to the persistence of the grass-roots refugee protest movement as a whole.

To get involved in the campaign to support LGBTI refugees contact:
Community Action Against Homophobia: Rachel Evans 0403 798 420, Simon Biber 0425 208 363, Norrie mAy Welby 0421 479 285
Queer Students Network: 0401 664 858

www.caah.org

References:

Millbank, J. 2000 Imagining otherness: Refugee claims on the basis of sexuality in Canada and Australia. Melbourne University Law Review, April 2002

"WAAG v MIMIA [2004]. HCATrans 475 (19 Nov. 2004)" High Court of Australia Transcripts. 2005. 17 Oct. 2005 .

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