Muslim LGBT+ refugees more likely to gain asylum if they 'conform to stereotypes'

A new German study suggests LGBT+ Muslims seeking asylum are more successful if they speak, dress and act in accordance with Western notions of homosexuality.

A line of asylum seekers walking by a fence

A new study published in the Ethnic and Racial Studies journal found that Muslim LGBT+ asylum applicants reported they were often expected to be “flamboyant” and “outspoken” in their asylum interview, and that overall, asylum seekers were more successful if they could prove their ‘gayness’ by being involved in gay/queer activism in their country of origin, visiting gay bars, being members of lesbian and gay groups and attending gay Pride marches.

Dr Mengia Tschalaer, an anthropologist at the University of Bristol interviewed LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers from majority Muslim countries as well as asylum lawyers and judges and representatives of LGBT+ refugee counselling centers across Germany. 

Dr Tschalaer shared, “In order to gain asylum, asylum seekers must convince officials of their [LGBT+] identity…My research showed that most successful applicants were very well informed about what is expected from them at the asylum interview – which was for their asylum story to align with Western notions of queer/gay lifestyles, ie frequent visits to gay discos and parties, public display of love and affection, wearing rainbow-coded clothing etc.”

Tschalaer continued, “LGBT+ asylum seekers who felt forced to hide their sexuality and/or gender identity, and who felt uncomfortable talking about it were usually rejected, as were those who were married or had children in their countries of origin. This was either because they were not recognised or believed as being LGBT+, or because they were told to hide in their country of origin since they had not come out yet.

“Quite a few of my interviewees also mentioned that they felt that their translator held a homo-/transphobic attitude or did not translate properly due to their lack of knowledge of gay/queer/trans issues. For example, one Somalian man said that his fear and shame of coming out as gay – coupled with his translator’s known negative attitudes toward homosexuals – stopped him from being able to talk openly about his sexuality, leading to the rejection of his asylum claim.”

The study also found that asylum applicants who portrayed Germany as a liberal, tolerant country free of discrimination, while portraying their Muslim countries of origin as homophobic and morally ‘backwards’ were more likely to receive refugee protection. This added to concern that the narratives and stereotypes perpetuated by the asylum system may serve right-wing discourses on immigration.

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