Muslim LGBT refugees more likely to gain asylum in Germany if they conform to stereotypes, study suggests 

A new study published in the Journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies has found that Muslim LGBT individuals who are seeking asylum in Germany are more likely to be successful if they were born male, middle to upper class, and act flamboyantly. 

The study goes on to say that applicants were also more successful if they could prove their “gayness” and kept to “Western notions” of homosexuality. A few ways to do that are, be outspoken, be 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 15 lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) from Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Pakistan. She also spoke with asylum lawyers and judges from Berlin and Cologne and representatives of LGBTQI+ refugee counseling centers in Cologne, Munich, Heidelberg, and Mannheim.

“In order to gain asylum, asylum seekers must convince officials of their permanent identity as ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, trans’, ‘bi’, and/or ‘intersex’, says Dr. Tschalaer. “They also need to demonstrate that their sexual and gender identity has led to them being persecuted in their home country.”

“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, i.e frequent visits to gay discos and parties, public display of love and affection, wearing rainbow-coded clothing etc.”

Furthermore, despite EU laws LGBT individuals were in some cases asked about their sex life during the interview. Some even reported that they felt judged by their clothing and how they acted. 

“The question of how to present your queerness or gayness is central in a context where the decision-maker is actively looking for reasons to reject your asylum claim”, said LGBTQI+ commissioner Danijel Ćubelić.

Asylum seeker, Rzouga Selmi makes the assertion that decisions are arbitrary and delicate; almost anything can work against you. 

“For them [decision-makers] it’s usually like this: You’re not gay enough, so you are not gay, or, you are gayer than the standard, so you are faking it and you’re not being gay,” said Selmi. “I wore make-up on the day of my interview and presented a certain gender expression which could have played against me. He [the decision-maker] could easily have said; You could not be wearing make-up at 10 in the morning, so you are not being yourself and this is fake and you just like doing it for the sake of the interview and you are not that [gender non-binary].”

Not being out at the time of the interview is also detrimental in some cases. People who were not comfortable speaking about their sexuality felt marginalized. 

“LGBTQI+ 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 LGBTQI+, or because they were told to hide in their country of origin since they had not come out yet,” says Dr. Tschalaer.

“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.”

Individuals who denounced their country of origin as “backwards,” while praising German as a liberal, tolerant country free of discrimination, were more likely to receive refugee protection says the report.

Germany, and Europe are generally seen as tolerant countries, safe havens for LGBT refugees, there is a concern that granting asylum to people who adhere to stereotypes perpetuated by the German asylum system may serve right-wing discourses on immigration in Germany.

 Dr. Tschalaer is discouraged by the findings in the report, saying more needs to be done to ensure that all Muslim LGBTQI individuals enjoy the same right to asylum.

“We need to train decision makers, judges and translators around the topic of LGBTQI+ so that they are more knowledgeable about LGBTQI+ identities and sexualities, and so as not to reproduce Islamophobic tendencies in the current immigration practices and debates in Germany,” she said.

She adds: “Access to legal resources and support for LGBTQI+ also needs to be streamlined, as LGBTQI+ asylum seekers who had access to information on the asylum process in Germany were much more successful.”

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