Friday, July 16, 2010

Equality in the UK

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (prior post) issued a unanimous judgment extending protection to gay asylum seekers who would be required to conceal their sexual orientation if returned to their home country.
Though sexual orientation has long been recognized as a ground for asylum in the United States, LGBT asylum seekers have not fared as well in the UK. Indeed, the UK Home Office had made a practice of telling gay asylum seekers to go back to their home country and keep their sexuality private.
The UK Supreme Court decision rejected the case law upon which this policy was based (the "reasonably tolerable" test), finding that an asylum seeker "cannot and must not be expected to conceal aspects of his sexual orientation which he may be unwilling to conceal, even from those whom he knows may disapprove of it" -- and even where the adjudicator finds this refusal to conceal unreasonable.
Home Secretary Theresa May (right) welcomed the ruling, noting that the government had already promised to stop deporting gay asylum seekers, and that the Home Office will reframe its guidance on sexual orientation claims based on the decision.
The trend is promising, but there's still much work to be done educating asylum decisionmakers from the UK Border Agency.
A report issued earlier this year by the gay rights charity Stonewall found that Border Agency staff often dismissed gay applicants if they were not immediately open about their sexual orientation, did not engage consistently and exclusively in same-sex sexual activity, or had not participated openly in explicit homosexual activity. Breaking down these and other stereotypes about LGBT asylum seekers will require comprehensive ongoing training of and guidance for asylum adjudicators. Ending assumptions that LGBT people can be safe in their home country if they "hide" their sexual orientation is only the first step in ensuring equality in the UK asylum system.

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