It Doesn’t Matter If She’s Really Gay: How the Home Office got Aderonke Apata all wrong

According to the UK Home Office, Aderonke Apata is not a lesbian.

Apata is a Nigerian citizen currently seeking asylum in the UK. Eleven years ago, when her husband’s family discovered that she’d been in a relationship with a woman, she was taken to a Sharia court and sentenced to death for adultery. She fled, seeking asylum in the UK on religious grounds- Apata was from a Christian family and her ex-husband was Muslim.

She’s been in the UK, then, for over a decade. During that time, Apata:

has won a national diversity award as an LGBT role model (for which she received 21,000 nominations), she was named in the Independent’s 2014 Rainbow List and she is currently in a relationship with her partner Happiness, a recognised refugee. As well as giving evidence to the Detention Inquiry, Aderonke has been a guest speaker at the Ministry of Justice, set up Movement for Justice in Manchester and is a patron for community empowerment organisationProud2be.

Let’s recap on this. She’s not just gay. This woman is turbo-gay. She has a bucketload of gayitude awards, works as an LGBT activist, spoke to the UK government about gay stuff, and on top of all that, incidentally, she has a decidedly female fiancée.

But according to the UK Home Office, Apata is not a lesbian. Why? Because she has children. In an impressive display of ignorance of both bisexuality and heteronormativity, barrister Andrew Bird argued that “you cannot be heterosexual one day and homosexual another”. He went on to argue that she also can’t be a lesbian because she dresses like one, and because the way she dressed ten years ago is different to her current fashion sense.

Let’s not bother going into everything that’s wrong with either of those arguments (but hint: it’s actually everything), but simply point out that Apata heard all of this while sitting next to her fiancée.

Here’s a more important reason why Bird’s arguments are all wrong: none of this matters one bit. Even if it were true- if sexual orientation were utterly binary, if lesbians in homophobic societies never married men for social acceptance, and if everybody chose one clothing style at birth and stuck to it till the day they died- it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if Apata is ‘really’ a lesbian or not. Whether her love for her fiancée (and all of her ex-girlfriends, several of whom have testified before this hearing and holy shit how weird would it be to ask around for those references?!) is genuine or faked doesn’t matter a bit- to anyone outside that relationship, at least.

What is relevant, then? That Apata is in danger if she goes home. While Bird is intent on arguing that a woman engaged to another woman is insufficiently gay to qualify for asylum, Nigerian law doesn’t care less about a person’s deepest feelings. It’s not being gay that’ll either land you in prison or get you stoned to death. What will? Same-sex sexual activity. Or dressing in a way that doesn’t match with your assigned gender- like, say, in those terribly dapper shirts and bowties that Apata tends to wear.

Apata isn’t at risk because she feels, deep-down, that the people that she falls in love with are women. She’s at risk because of the action of having relationships with women. The action of ironing a shirt for an awards ceremony. The action, even, of working in LGBT activism, volunteering her time for her community. That’s why she had to flee her country, and that’s why she would be in extreme danger if forced to return.

With any luck, she won’t be.

For news on Aderonke’s situation, check out her FB support page.
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It Doesn’t Matter If She’s Really Gay: How the Home Office got Aderonke Apata all wrong
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Feminsm est mort! | gaelick

Check out my latest post over at Gaelick- this one on Carla Bruni’s baffling assertion that we no longer need feminism:

Y’know what’s strange? Carla Bruni seems to think that, well, feminism is outdated and unnecessary. Despite having been pilloried for years-old sexy pictures when she moved on to a more ‘respectable’ career path. Despite having been branded with sexualised, misogynistic insults when she defended a woman sentences to death for adultery. Despite working with women and children affected by HIV/AIDS. Despite all of that, Bruni ain’t a feminist. And she doesn’t see why any of us are either.

What?

Read the rest at Feminsm est mort! | gaelick.

And as you’re there, why not check out some of the other things Gaelickers have been writing about this week?

Butt it’s sexy:

 

Dudes, there is an elephant in the room, and I think it’s time we talked about it. Not enough people are talking about this elephant, and by elephant I of course mean your butt. Nobody is talking about your butt. The Saddest Story.

Anal sex is one of the hardest things to talk about, because most of society thinks butts are kind of gross. Wrong! I bet most of you guys have very lovely bottoms, bottoms you want to share with equally lovely tops, but how to broach this incredibly awkward subject?? It’s a tough one.

Being a Gay Teacher:

Monday morning. I have mixed feelings. I’m looking forward to work and I’m slightly dreading it. I can’t wait to see the children again, the smile on their faces when they come into the classroom, I have a cool art lesson planned, and I got new toys over the weekend that I know they’re going to love. I get to school, the morning goes well. We all have fun. I have one of those great moments where you can see progress in a particular child and you know your hard work is paying off. Our nursery rhyme this week is Incy Wincy Spider, they all laugh and clap at my impression of Incy Wincy falling down in the rain, I’m here ’till Friday kids!

Bell goes. It’s lunchtime. Staffroom is calling. Now for your typical Monday morning conversation. I have a few scenarios where I employ different techniques to avoid anyone finding out I’m gay.

BeLonG To Blueprint for Protecting LGBT Asylum Seekers and Refugees:

Speaking about their experiences, a young gay refugee from Southern Africa said: “This is the truth: I don’t think I’d be here right now if it wasn’t for BeLonG To. I really wanted to kill myself, I just really wanted to die and get away from this. But then after talking to people from this service, encouraging me and constantly telling me that everything would be ok, and still giving me room to express myself all the time… They have helped me a lot, I have grown, and I have learned how to accept myself.”

Álainn or Appallin’: Janet Mock:

Former people.com editor Janet Mock never intended to be an icon but that is exactly what she is.  Coming out as a transgender woman in May 2011 Mock did an interview with Marie Claire entitled I Was Born a Boy.  The open and frank account of her life was, and still is, deeply moving and lead her on the path to become an amazing advocate for our community.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Janet was educated in the University of Hawaii as well as doing graduate work with the school of journalism, NYU.  She is both a writer and an activist, working out of Harvey Milk High School NY as part of the Hetrick-Martin Institute where she is involved in the education of LGBT youth, specifically creating transgender-specific programs.

And loads and loads more!

Feminsm est mort! | gaelick

Seeking Sanctuary: LGBT asylum seekers in Ireland

BeLonG To have made a fantastic video highlighting the experiences of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers here in Ireland. It’s part of their larger Asylum Seekers and Refugees Project, which works to provide support and a safe space for LGBT asylum seeker and refugee young people. It’s difficult watching, but absolutely worth the 8 minutes. The lives of asylum seekers and refugees are widely ignored in this country, they’re made to live in inhuman conditions while becoming convenient political scapegoats.

Make yourself a cuppa and check this out. Then share it to everyone you know.

 

And more from the Tea Cosy:
Seeking Sanctuary: LGBT asylum seekers in Ireland

Anti-Deportation Ireland launch

(Note: In this post, I’ll be sharing things raised and spoken about at the ADI launch. Because of the risk this could pose to the people in question, however, I’m not going to give their names or any details about them unless I get explicit permission to do so.)

Anti-Deportation Ireland was officially launched on Wednesday morning. ADI is “a national, multi-ethnic grassroots network/alliance of activists, asylum seekers, refugees, community workers, trade unionists, and academics who have come together to campaign against forced deportation in Ireland, and for the abolition of the direct provision system.”. They have three demands:

  1. An immediate end to all deportations
  2. The immediate abolition of the direct provision system.
  3. The right to work for people seeking asylum.

So why these demands? How do direct provision and deportation work in Ireland, and why is it so important to end them?

Direct Provision

Direct provision is how asylum seekers’ basic needs- for food and shelter- are provided in Ireland. Asylum seekers are placed in hostels. Food is provided by these hostels. Because food and shelter are directly provided, the only money people are given is an allowance of €19.50 per week. Until people’s claims have been decided, they do not have the right to work or education in Ireland. The amount of time it can take for a claim to be decided varies hugely- people can spend years waiting for a decision.

Despite the name, direct provision isn’t, well, directly provided by the State. It’s outsourced privately, and because of this becomes a for-profit enterprise. Despite being outsourced, it’s unregulated. Can you see where this is going? People are accommodated three, four, five to a room, with different families sharing a room. The standard of food can be atrocious. Not only is it extremely bad, but in many cases utterly unlike what people are used to in their home countries. And because of direct provision, asylum seekers don’t have the facilities or the rights to even cook their own food.

Complaining about conditions is rarely an option. People who complain about overcrowding are told that they should be grateful that they are not homeless. That they’re taking up room that Irish homeless people don’t have- pitting two extremely vulnerable minorities in this country against each other.

Several people talked about raising their families in direct provision. One woman spoke of how one of her children is too young to remember anything else. How she doesn’t know the difference between a bedroom and a living room and a kitchen. How happy her child is whenever they leave the hostel, and how she hates having to go back ‘home’. Another speaker talked about the particularly Irish way in which cases of child abuse within hostels are dealt with. Perpetrators can be, in a cruel echo of so many other institutions in this country, simply moved from hostel to hostel. This is happening now. And those who complain are often moved themselves, without any right to protest, to other hostels around the country, disrupting any fragile sense of community they might have created where they are. People are denied the right to privacy, to cook their own food, to have a home where they feel safe and where they know how long they can stay.

Right to Work

As well as being forced to live in specific hostels, asylum seekers in Ireland are denied the right to work and education while their claims are being processed- which can take years. On the one hand, this is immensely wasteful. Ireland is in a recession! How many skilled, educated, qualified people are languishing in hostels unable to work, when they could be contributing to society? This also shows the lie of the idea that asylum seekers and migrants are ‘draining’ the system. These people are not permitted to work, even when they want to. On the other hand, years of enforced, stultifying idleness can be devastating for asylum seekers. Not being able to work means that people’s skills get rusty. Work and education are also two of the major ways that people integrate and find a place in communities. Direct provision and the denial of the right to work and study keep asylum seekers separate from Irish society. They mean that people can be here for years with no ability to put down roots and make a home. That Irish people don’t get to work and study beside asylum seekers. That we see asylum seekers as other.

Deportation

Asylum seekers, however, don’t just have to live with direct provision. They also face the constant threat of deportation. On World Refugee Day this year, the 20th of June, 18 people were deported from this country. Twelve of them were children. People are not deported during the day. They are taken from their beds in the middle of the night. When neighbours don’t notice. When people who could help them to appeal are out of work, are asleep. Without notice.

Several people spoke of the constant threat of deportation. About staying awake through the night, sacred this would be the night they’d be forced out. One speaker remarked that even criminals in prison in this country know what they have been sentenced to. They know how long they’ll be there. Asylum seekers don’t have even this security. Another speaker remarked that for asylum seekers, the normal rights accorded people by the legal system are turned upside-down. Asylum seekers are assumed guilty and lying until proven otherwise. The burden of proof is on them, and it is made incredibly difficult to prove themselves innocent. But, as several people asked, why would someone put themselves through this system without good reason? Why would they live like this, for years on end, if they didn’t absolutely need to?

Not okay.

Direct provision, night-time deportations, denial of basic human rights- these things are done by the state to asylum seekers. But as one speaker said, there is a thing line between a refugee and a citizen. Our government has shown that it is willing to trample basic human rights, to engage in a deliberate campaign to other and alienate a group of people. The ‘asylum seeker’ is constructed as scapegoat and a subject for deportation. As Irish people, we need to contest this construction. We need to reach out to people seeking asylum, to hear their stories, to share these stories every way we can. We need to bring the lives of asylum seekers into the light. As one speaker said, “No more secrets. No more lies. No more lying awake every night waiting to be taken away”.

More info on the launch at Cedar Lounge Revolution, Politico, Millstreet.ie and Irish Left Review. Follow ADI on Facebook to find out more about what they are doing and how you can get involved.

Myself and Ariel Silvera also livetweeted this meeting. A summary of these is available here.

Anti-Deportation Ireland launch