'Gay? Prove it then – have you read any Oscar Wilde?': Judges accused of asking lesbian asylum seekers inappropriate questions

Tribunal judges accused of shocking levels of ignorance and prejudice

Have you ever read Oscar Wilde? Do you use sex toys? Why have you not attended a Pride march? These are just some of the questions that have been asked of lesbian asylum seekers in what one academic says shows shocking levels of ignorance and prejudice among tribunal judges.

Over the past year Claire Bennett, a researcher at the University of Southampton, has interviewed a dozen gay women from socially conservative countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and Jamaica to assess what their experience of applying for asylum has been like.

She found that the women were routinely subjected to “inappropriate and insensitive” questioning from tribunal judges in their bid to ascertain whether the women really were gay or at genuine risk of persecution.

“I thought I was quite unshockable just in terms of how dehumanising criminalising the whole asylum process is,” Ms Bennett, who worked in refugee camps in Afghanistan and Cambodia before returning to Britain, told The Independent. “I was wrong.”

Her findings, which will be presented today to the British Sociological Association’s annual conference, will raise questions over what training immigration judges receive on dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) applicants.

Many of the women complained that much of the questioning seemed to presume they led the same kind of gay lifestyles as someone might in the West, despite coming from deeply socially conservative cultures where heterosexual intercourse was rarely discussed publicly, let alone homosexual. The questioning also made stereotypical assumptions of what constitutes a typical gay lifestyle.

One woman from Jamaica was told by an immigration judge that he did not believe she was homosexual because “you don’t look like a lesbian”. Another lesbian asylum seeker from Pakistan was asked in court “If you are a lesbian you go to clubs – which ones?” despite her being a Muslim woman who did not drink. Her credibility as a lesbian was also questioned because she had not attended a Pride march and the immigration judge her that “all lesbians go to Pride”.

One woman from Uganda – where gay men and women are subjected to increasingly horrific, state-sponsored homophobic violence – said she was even asked whether she’d ever read Oscar Wilde.

“They have in their mind this stereotypical lesbian woman with short hair and no make-up, they just expect you to conform to what they believe a lesbian woman should be like and how they behave,” the woman, who is not named, told researchers. “They want all of us to have short hair and piercings, it’s really, really stereotypical, and they ask you what shows you watch?”

The Government has never released statistics from immigration tribunals on how many people each year apply for asylum claiming that they face persecution because of their sexuality. But it is believed by support groups that around 98 per cent of such claims are rejected first time around. The onus is on the asylum seeker to effectively prove that they are lesbian, something that is particularly difficult to do if they come from highly socially conservative societies.

Meanwhile immigration judges need to try to ask questions that can tease out whether someone really is gay or whether they are simply stating they are in order to make a bogus asylum claim. Most claimants are expected to provide some sort of evidence of a gay relationship or persecution. Although Border and Immigration Agency staff have specific guidelines to deal with LGBT asylum seekers, there is no equivalent advice for tribunal judges.

Of the 11 asylum seekers Ms Bennett interviewed, one gained asylum at the first decision, six gained asylum after several appeals, four are still going through the system. Ms Bennett believes her research illustrates the need for greater transparency from the immigration tribunals in how gay asylum seekers are treated and how judges come to the conclusions they do.

Using the example of one woman from Jamaica who was asked if she used sex toys, she explained: “Whether you do or don’t use sex toys tells you nothing about someone’s sexual orientation so why is that a legitimate question? It’s entirely inappropriate. For these women their sexuality wasn’t about sex toys or a favourite gay nightclub. We need much better statistics and much more transparency over how these decisions are made.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high