As we consider what a post-Brexit Britain may look like, anticipated changes to trade and business, as well as immigration policies, are what the mind will first turn to.
HOWEVER, we must also consider how Brexit will impact upon the nation’s equality policies. Falling into this bracket are transgender rights.
With Britain still part of the EU, the nation’s LGBT+ citizens are protected by EU legislations such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Worryingly though, this is the only international human rights document that can legally and explicitly protect against discrimination of sexual orientation. And, if Britain does leave the EU, the government have stated they will be abandoning the charter.
The absence of this law will have significant ramifications upon the entire LGBT+ communities but in particular transgender members of the EU seeking refuge in the UK may find themselves in an enhanced position of vulnerability – even more significant to that which they currently face. And with discrimination against the community already a rampant issue worldwide, it’s not like gaining refugee status has been a simple task prior to Brexit.
As it stands, the asylum-seeking process is already an overly invasive process for most LGBT+ applicants. Individuals can apply in the UK by proving to the home office that their native countries are likely to persecute them for issues pertaining to religion, race, gender identity or sexual orientation. However, the process of giving evidence to prove as much, frequently leads to disturbing levels of exploitation and invasions of privacy.
For instance, a gay rights activist from Nigeria desperately sent a judge an intimate video to display evidence of her sexual orientation after being accused of ‘faking’ it. And a 2016 report by The UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, entitled No Safe Refuge, spoke with LGBT+ asylum-seeking applicants being held in detention centres across the UK. The applicants told of the disturbing levels of discrimination and abuse they faced, revealing how interviewing officers would ask needlessly intrusive questions “that were targeted to gain explicit content”.
Another issue to arise from the application process is the simple fact that individuals must prove evidence of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This can be a highly difficult process for many, especially transgender asylum-seekers, as they have been unable to live openly and publicly in their home countries, for fear of persecution – which is of course the reason as to why they are applying for refugee status in the first place. After years of hiding their gender identity, transgender asylum seekers are then required to provide evidence of it to Government officials; it’s not hard to see why this could be both logistically and emotionally difficult.
The frustrating truth is that, after years of working towards a more accepting society, Europe seems to have regressed away from a position of tolerance. Indeed, a study of 49 countries belonging to the continent, ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) discovered a clear retreat away from policies protecting against sexual discrimination for the first time in a decade. In their 2017 report, Stonewall recorded an upturn in hate crime against LGBT+ individuals, and thanks to the recent stigmatisation of gender identity in the media, transgender people are becoming targeted further to vile levels of abuse.
An investigation by the University of Bristol lead them to believe that the UK may scrap transgender non-discrimination rights, post-Brexit, since they argue it is thanks to EU law that transgender identity is included within our framework. This is a worrying notion as future immigration policy is aimed to run a more rigorous regime. In 2017, a total 1,464 applicants out of 1,887 individuals seeking asylum based on their sexual orientation were refused entry into the UK. With all migrants set to be subjected to even more severe levels of scrutiny, one can only fear how transgender asylum seekers may suffer, especially without laws to protect them against discrimination.
The lingering presence of the hostile environment policy can help explain the reason behind Britain’s high immigration refusal rates. The Home Office introduced the policy back in 2012 with the intention of making the UK such an unwelcome environment, that migrants would struggle to be able to, or even want to maintain asylum status. The many examples of LGBT+ asylum seekers still facing clear discrimination on all fronts suggest that not much has changed in the nation’s stance; newly appointed home secretary Priti Patel’s voting record on matters of immigration and asylum also indicate that she is unlikely to show much sympathy towards migrants.
As it stands with Britain still in the EU, the process of a transgender person trying to seek legal refuge in Britain so as to avoid persecution in their own country is already a perilous one. Individuals are exposed to disturbing levels of injustice and exploitation in their pursuit of safety. And if the government fails to establish post-Brexit human rights legislation for the LGBT+ communities, then our own transgender citizens will face an unprotected future; let alone the even more vulnerable members of the wider European community in need of refuge. It’s time for the Home Office to both forsake any traces of the hostile environment policy and to introduce new laws that allow for the protection and progression of the Trans community within Britain; be that for our current citizens or for future citizens in the form of asylum seekers.
Hal Fish is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of UK immigration solicitors providing legal support for those looking to migrate to the UK or hire overseas workers.