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Refugee’s Asylum Petition Rejected Because He Isn't 'Gay Enough'


The man’s lawyer accuses judges of relying on outdated stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people.

An unnamed British judge has rejected the asylum claim of a man from a country where homosexuality is illegal on the grounds that the judge didn't think the man's "demeanor" was gay enough.

Fortunately, a higher court has intervened and will rehear the case. Nevertheless, the incident raises alarming questions about the criteria used by immigration judges and is part of a larger problem with stereotyping in immigation that has been documented for years.

Neither the judge nor the asylum seeker have been named, but the man's lawyer, Rehana Popal, noted several appalling details about the case on Twitter.

According to Popal, the judge complained that her client failed to "look around the room in an effeminate manner," and that "on the gay scene younger men are highly valued." The judge also compared the client to an asylum speaker whom he considered more visibly gay because the man wore lipstick.

Popal told The Guardian that her client is afraid to return home to a country where he could be arrested for being gay. Highlighting the arbitrary nature of the judge's decision, Popal said, the man's partner was granted asylum a month earlier in a very similar case.

Popal appealed the ruling to a higher court, where a representative from the Home Office defended the judge's stereotype-ridden ruling. That court ruled in favor of Popal's client last week, sending the case back down to a lower court for another hearing.

"Sadly, this is not the only time we have seen a judge make a decision based on stereotypes," said Leila Zadeh, executive director of the U.K. Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG), speaking to the immigration rights group Free Movement. According to Zadeh, other judges have used "how lesbian women have chosen to style their hair and the extent to which gay men are perceived as camp" as factors in determing whether an applicant should be granted asylum.

Popal also cited examples of cases in which judges denied that previously married women can be lesbians and Home Office claims that immigrants can't be both Muslim and gay.

Researchers at the University of Bristol found that asylum claims are more likely to be granted if seekers perform a "flamboyant" stereotype. Judges appeared to reward immigrants to "aligned with Western notions of queer/gay lifestyles," wrote Dr. Mengia Tschalaer, citing as examples "frequent visits to gay discos and parties, public display of love and affection, wearing rainbow-coded clothing etc."

In recent years, the U.K.'s Home Office has grown increasingly likely to reject claims for asylum on the basis of anti-LGBTQ+ persecution. In 2017 officials rejected 78 percent of asylum claims that included mention of sexual orientation, an increase from 52 percent in 2015. Rejection rates for the overall population fell during that time period, from 40 percent to 32 percent.

Most of those rejections were overturned on appeal.

RELATED | Behind the Legal Efforts to Keep LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers Safe

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Matt Baume