The United Kingdom is using religion to discriminate against LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, according to a newly released report.
According to a study by the Metropolitan Community Church of North London and the U.K. Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, LGBTQ+ people of faith seeking refuge in the U.K. are asked by the Home Office whether it is a “contradiction” to be both religious and queer.
Questions asked of refugees reportedly included, “How can you be [a] lesbian and Christian?” and “Isn't the Bible against being gay?”
“Conducting this research left me amazed at the extent to which faith interacts with many [LGBTQ+] Africans' experiences in the asylum application process, on top of all the issues they face,” the report's lead researcher, Jordan Dyck, said in a statement.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Claims of Asylum (SOGICA), a four-year project funded by the European Research Council, cited as an example a Home Office refusal letter from July 2018. “Given that you are a practicing Christian, your failure to raise any potential conflicts in relation to your behavior and faith raises doubts concerning your credibility,” it stated.
Moira Dustin, a research fellow at SOGICA, said there was a “very common Home Office assumption that religious and [LGBTQ+] identities are in conflict.”
“To the contrary, we have found that many people claiming asylum on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity get much of their moral support from community groups that have a strong faith basis,” she said.
Osei*, a 39-year-old Christian gay man from Ghana — where same-sex relations are illegal — described the asylum process as “mental torture.”
“They asked me how I could reconcile being gay and Christian,” he said. “They asked if I thought I was going to hell because I'm gay. I believe I am a man created by God. Being gay doesn't stop me from being a Christian.”
Osei applied for asylum in 2016 but was rejected and has appealed multiple times. He is currently awaiting a new court date to appeal the decision again.
A 2017 report by the European Agency for Fundamental rights found asylum officers in the European Union “tend to have stereotypical views on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
But study respondents said Home Office staff forced them to explain complex passages from religious texts to prove their faith. This was unfair, according to the founder of Out and Proud African LGBTI Charity, Abbey Kiwanuka. He added that many asylum seekers “have no detailed information about the Bible or the Quran.”
“The Home Office should know that they are not interviewing the clergy or reverends who are well versed with holy books,” he said.
Kiwanuka explained religion plays a big part of community life for many LGBTQ+ Africans, especially in the U.K. “Coming to the U.K., where many churches are very welcoming, they are able to continue going to church and regain hope in God,” he said. “This should not be a reason for refusing someone protection.”
According to the official guidance given to Home Office staff, a claimant's religion “is not a basis for rejecting their claim.”
“[LGBTQ+] individuals may be adherents of religions that disapprove of homosexuality, preach against it, or indeed forbid it,” the guidance states. “Decision-makers should take care to avoid judgmental questioning.”
A Home Office spokesman told PinkNews that it has worked closely with LGBTQ+ groups to create inclusive training programs for its staff.
“Each case is considered on its individual merits against relevant case law and published country information, and all decisions on claims based on sexual orientation are reviewed by an experienced caseworker,” the spokesman said.
The Metropolitan Community Church commissioned the study after groups of asylum seekers began attending church services in 2012. Immigration statistics released in August suggested there were 1,502 asylum applications in Britain on the basis of sexual orientation in 2018.
* Osei could not reveal his surname because of safety concerns.