Lady Phyll hosts panel on LGBTQ+ Asylum & Immigration Detention at National Student Pride

Graham Robson February 14, 2023

National Student Pride, in association with Rainbow Migration, platformed a panel of individuals with knowledge and experience of asylum and immigration detention, calling for the audience to use their voices to stop “the government’s dehumanisation of asylum seekers”.

The panel included: VICE NewsBen Hunte; Moud Goba, a Zimbabwean lesbian, refugee residing in the UK and National Manager of Micro Rainbow; Rainbow Migration’s Leila Zadeh; Manono, a refugee from Malawi, living in Liverpool; and Arthur Britney Joestar, the first non-binary person granted UK refugee status. The conversation, which took place during the Saturday daytime festival, was hosted by UK Black Pride’s Lady Phyll.

“If we fight for our rights, no one can take that away from us.” – Arthur Britney Joestar

Lady Phyll opened by noting the importance of this conversation taking place within LGBT+ History Month, commenting these people are working ‘behind the lens’ to ensure justice for asylum seekers and refugees. Providing background to Rainbow Migration, Leila spoke about the harsh reality of LGBTQ+ people fleeing dangerous environments, referencing the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and the negative impact of the higher evidence level the government requires to prove people are LGBTQ+. Rainbow Migration supports asylum seekers through this difficult process, builds support groups and campaigns for change in the system.

Ben Hunte described his fear at the state of LGBTQ+ rights and his current lack of interest in celebrating Pride: “I don’t understand why we’re not rioting in the streets.” He spoke openly about the scrapping of Theresa May’s LGBTQ+ Action Plan by Boris Johnson’s government, commenting on the real rapid decline of LGBTQ+ rights in the UK. He went on to discuss the difficulties of finding space in journalism to talk about LGBTQ+ asylum; “there is so much happening domestically, you can’t always think about wider issues – it’s really tough”.

A focus on intersectionality when approaching the conversation of LGBTQ+ asylum and immigration detention was mentioned throughout by panellists, Moud Goba shared the work of Micro Rainbow, who run safe houses for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees, discussing the challenges of being homeless and LGBTQ+.

Manono spoke candidly about her lived experience of immigration detention, and then being released back into the community only to become homeless. Talking about the impact of being a lesbian and homeless she shared how it is often forgotten that although people claim asylum for their protection, there is “an added level of hurt and pain” when the system is sexist, racist and dehumanises asylum seekers and refugees. Manono later shared the lack of control she feels; “I’ve never lived my life. I’m just living in fear, it’s very traumatising, I can be detained at any time, they always tell me I’m at risk of being deported.”

Furthering the conversation on intersectionality, Moud Goba discussed the added challenges of seeking asylum as a woman, especially being a lesbian with children, noting this can be another reason people cannot prove their sexuality. Moud went on to discuss the importance of having identity-specific support for example the LGBTQ+ Women’s Officer at Micro Rainbow, giving an example of someone who “couldn’t talk to us, but she could text our Women’s Officer”, and adding the challenge “who is there in our spaces who is not being supported?”

As the first non-binary person to get asylum, Arthur Britney Joestar spoke about seeing their friends tortured and murdered by very conservative groups which led her to seek asylum on the basis of being gay, coming to the UK in 2017. After exploring their gender identity, being supported by therapy and embracing being non-binary, she commented on further evidence on their identity being ignored, “they still called me a gay man for two years, and never had the decency to ask me my pronouns”. Reflecting on her journey, Arthur Britney Joestar said: “if someone else goes into the system, they can’t be ignored the way I was ignored. I fought many years to get my identity accepted.”

Lady Phyll continued by asking each panellist to share a call to action, Arthur Britney Joestar referenced the importance of reaching out to local charities who know the reality of each community; Manono encouraged the audience to use their experience, skills, and communication to remind the government to “treat people like human beings”, a theme echoed by all the panellists; Moud put out a call for volunteers for Micro Rainbow and the need to challenge ignorance.

“I’ve never lived my life. I’m just living in fear, it’s very traumatising, I can be detained at any time, they always tell me I’m at risk of being deported.” – Manono 

Rainbow Migration’s Leila Zadeh shared the organisation’s commitment to campaigning for the government to end immigration detention, or to at least put a time frame on it. Ben Hunte asked for the audience to support LGBTQ+ journalism more going on to say: “if I can say I’m scared, that should scare you. I want us to put the same amount of effort into knowing what is behind the scenes, as celebrating RuPaul’s Drag Race”.

As a poignant closing remark, Arthur Britney Joestar spoke of the importance of supporting each other and not being scared of politics, commenting “if someone touches one, they touch all of us,” but “if we fight for our rights, no one can take that away from us”.

Lady Phyll closed the panel by reminding the audience and panellists that “we have to remember the joy even though times are challenging, as soon as we lose sight of hope, we forget what we’re campaigning for.”

All pictures by Aaron Hargreaves