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