Giving support and solidarity to LGBT+ asylum seekers, the Identity group has proven itself to be an invaluable resource for a community which can feel isolated and set apart. In each upcoming issue, GCN will profile the members of Identity, giving them the space to tell their stories and discuss the issues that matter to them.
One of those members is Preet. Originally from Mauritius, Preet’s wonderfully positive disposition and upbeat charm stand in stark contrast to the struggles they faced in order to live openly and happily.
Mauritius isn’t very accepting of LGBT+ people, Preet explained how growing up as a very feminine child who sometimes liked to wear female identifying clothes, this behaviour was immediately frowned upon. Beatings administered by family members became a regular occurrence.
When from the age of nine, a neighbour began to sexually abuse Preet, the realisation arrived that there was no one to turn to for help. With a lack of social networking or other support systems, there was no one to speak to, no information for a child struggling to understand how to deal with such a horrific situation.
Seemingly “the only gay person in the village”, it was a culture where “the straight people are superior and you’re inferior.”
School too offered no safe haven. “No matter how much you’re being bullied, the principal, the teachers, they don’t even care. If you go and report bullying, they don’t even listen to you. So I have always, always, been struggling in my life.”
When Preet reached their mid-teens, things took a further disturbing turn. “My parents wanted me to marry a girl. In Mauritius, a thing that is very common is exorcism, voodoo. They were thinking I am possessed, I am mentally diseased.”
For years, Preet was not only brought to exorcists, but also to a psychologist in an attempt to ‘turn them straight’. Any refusal would result in beatings from the whole family – their mum, dad, brothers and sisters.
After leaving school and starting work in an office, Preet decided to take this opportunity to live life and embrace being a member of the LGBT+ family. Preet attended gay Pride in Port Louis, the countries capital in 2017. While there were around 50 people protesting the celebrations, there was a police presence, so things went according to plan.
2018, however, was a different story. Telling their family they were going to meet a friend, Preet left for Pride. The traffic was so bad, roads seemed to be jammed with traffic. It soon became clear why. “When I reached the city centre I saw 900 people protesting.” Some had knives, some carried acid, many had weapons. “They were out of control. I said ‘I’m going to die’. I had my makeup on, and some of them saw me. I ran. A policeman grabbed me and pulled me inside a building and told me not to come out.”
Inside the building were other LGBT+ people hiding from the protestors. Some of the protestors came inside and filmed, sending the videos to their friends outside. With only 100 policemen on duty, celebrations had to be put on hold. The police escorted them out.
That night, Preet’s family gathered to watch the evening news. And there was Preet on screen. “That was horrible, they beat me, calling me a faggot.” When Preet received death threats on messenger due to the attention brought by the new report, the situation becomes unbearable.
Due to take holidays from work, a friend in the UK had suggested coming to visit. Preet agreed, knowing deep down they would never return to Mauritius.
After arriving, Preet’s friend suggested applying for asylum in the UK. Having already lived in Dublin for a few years as a student from 2005, and knowing the culture, Preet thought it better to try Ireland. Preet came in from Belfast, and when given a form to fill in by a customs officer, Preet immediately ticked ‘illegal entry’. The IPO (International Protection Office) told Preet they could apply for asylum and put them in the Balseskin Direct Provision centre in Finglas.
Many have described the situation for LGBT+ asylum seekers in Direct Provision where they can actually end up being housed with people carrying the very same attitudes they were trying to escape in the first place. This was definitely the case for Preet. Housed in a room with five men, the homophobic behaviour continued. While management said they couldn’t do anything as there was no proof of violence, Preet was eventually transferred to another centre in Monasterevin.
This was even worse. Now there were eight men in the room with similar attitudes. Preet wrote to RIA (Reception and Integration Agency) and the Department of Justice asking for help. Preet was transferred to a centre Athlone where asylum seekers are housed in mobile homes and Preet’s housemate was also LGBT+.
Since then, things have improved hugely. Their housemate brought them to Identity eight months ago. With members coming to Dublin’s Outhouse from centres in Sligo, Limerick and Athlone, Preet describes the group as “amazing”, praising the support and camaraderie found there. A lifeline for LGBT+ people housed in isolated areas, it has proven to be both empowering and inspiring. “We need to interact with Irish LGBT+ people and build up a network of people we know.” To that end, Identity arranges for visits and social opportunities in order to build friendships and a feeling of community. The group already have preparations for Pride underway.
While Preet has tried as much as possible to take advantage of any courses provided by Outhouse and the Westmeath community centre, there is a regret that those in Direct Provision are not allowed to work or to study properly. Even still Preet was adamant they wanted to express gratitude. “I really thank Ireland from the bottom of my heart because at least I am in a secure country. Irish people are the best people. I know there are restrictions in Direct Provision but I am very grateful.”
This story originally appeared on GCN’s April 2019 issue. Read the full issue here.
© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.
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