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The Challenges of Proving Your Sexuality

yay-1316504OPINION

A Lebanese man who was seeking residence in Australia has been denied permission to stay after he failed to prove he was gay to a satisfactory level.

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The man, who can not be named, had claimed to have had a homosexual relationship in Lebanon and now that he has declared his sexuality in Australia, he says he will face persecution if he returns to Lebanon.

The tribunal reviewing the decision to deport the man said he had failed to ‘live openly as a gay man’ in Australia and that his evidence of his experience of being gay was vague.

At the same time a new report in the United Kingdom has found that LGBT people trying to enter that country face extraordinary obstacles trying to prove their sexuality to immigration officers.

In some cases in the UK some people had given photographic and video evidence of an extremely personal nature to officers as part of the process.

The Chairman of the UK review committee, Labour MP Keith Vaz, has called for people seeking asylum to be able to give a simple statement of sexuality and has called for the practice of requiring people to prove their sexuality to stopped immediately.

“It is absurd for a judge or a caseworker to have to ask an individual to prove that they are lesbian or gay, to ask them what kind of films they watch, what kind of material they read.” Mr Vaz said.

I can’t help but wonder how hard it is to prove you are gay, if up until this point you have kept your sexuality hidden.

Ten years ago my partner and I sat in front of desk at the Department of Immigration to present the evidence that we were in a relationship to a man from the department.

We met while working overseas and had been together for several years. Now my partner was applying to come and live in Australia.

We handed over photographs of us together, shockingly we only had nine pictures where we were both in the same photo. We just weren’t in the habit of taking pictures of ourselves. This would soon change as our family and friends got into a new routine over the next two years of taking pictures of us together whenever we went anywhere.

We handed over a video we’d shot on holiday a few years previously, and some footage of us together on various cruise ships that we had worked on over the last few years. Having served as staff on a cruise ship proved to be a problem. Floating around in international waters most of the time meant we had not been residing in any country – there was no check box for this on the form in front of the man from immigration.

We’d built a house he in Australia, that was seen as a good thing, and we’d opened joint bank accounts. We passed over three years worth of emails we’d sent to each other during times when we were apart. The stack of A4 pages printed out from two Hotmail accounts was an inch thick. Printing them out had been an emotional process, we shared arguments we’d had over email, revisited times when family members had been ill and relived the loss of family members as well.

One by one we answered the Immigration Officer’s questions, why did we love each other? What did we love about each other? What kind of things did we do together? How did we meet? There was some concern that we didn’t do enough things together, it was suggested that it would be a good idea if we took up a sport together, or joined some social clubs.

Luckily we had a declaration of our relationship from our former employer. A great piece of evidence. The company we worked for had brought in a policy that people had to declare who they were dating. It was for security purposes as we dealt with a lot of valuable assets in our jobs, but the declaration also allowed for better personnel management when transferring staff between different vessels around the world.

The company was notorious for accidentally sending husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends in opposite directions. At first there had been some concern about recognising same sex couples. The company was based in a country where homosexual acts were still declared illegal. After some great debates it was decided that the company would also recognise same sex couples. Two years later this one piece of paper would be an important part of our submission to the Department of Immigration.

As we left the interview and headed home we had a long discussion about which sport we would take up to prove our relationship was genuine.

In our situation we were not being asked to prove that we were gay, we were required to show that we were a couple in a long term relationship. Yet having been through that experience I can’t help but wonder just how hard it must be to prove your sexuality if you have come from a country where it is illegal or unsafe to make such declarations. Are we applying the standards of a society where it’s OK to be out of the closet on to people who have only just made their first step outside?

Graeme Watson, who has still not joined a sporting club.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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