On International Women’s Day we’d like to pay tribute to all the lesbian, bisexual and trans women that go through the asylum system and acknowledge the additional struggles they face simply because of their gender or gender identity.

When assessing someone’s sexual orientation during asylum interviews, decision-makers often rely on a pre-determined assumption of sexual ‘self-realisation’ that doesn’t always apply in the case of women. Some women only form a same sex sexual orientation later in life and face being disbelieved on this basis, particularly where they have been in relationships with or married to men previously, or have children.

According to our LGBTQI+ Asylum Seeker Support Workers, this is a very common experience for lesbians who claim asylum. They might have married a man due to cultural, familial or religious pressures and/or to ensure their sexual orientation remains hidden.  For instance, Marina had to leave Cameroon because after her family discovered her sexual orientation, they forced her into a relationship with a man. This factor can lead to women like Marina facing disbelief during their asylum interview.

Bisexual women face even greater challenges and have sometimes been asked why they have ‘chosen’ to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex when it places them in danger in their country of origin. In addition, lesbians, bisexual and trans women all face hardship and isolation due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity as it is harder to seek support from country-of-origin communities, as they fear they would again be subjected to harassment and abuse.

On the other hand, trans women face systematic discrimination, harassment and violence when going through the asylum system. The current asylum decision making guidance lacks up to date information around gender identity, which leads to official written communications not recognising the chosen name of trans women and misgendering them, or what’s even more traumatic, to trans women being placed in detention in the wrong detention population and provision of shared accommodation in men’s facilities that may attract bullying, assault or harassment. Like Nisha, who describes her experience in detention as “horrible”, and explains: “I did not have a shower for the first week because it was an open shower. So someone could see. I was on hormones before I was detained…So it was not good for me to expose myself. I had to hide.”

Trans women are also at a higher risk of hate crimes, homelessness and poverty.

As seen above, after leaving life-threatening situations, lesbian, bisexual and trans women all too often have to navigate additional challenges while claiming asylum. We believe it is time for a rights-based, intersectional approach to asylum, that recognises the specific experiences of women and makes them feel safe throughout the process. At the moment we are urging the Government to rethink the Nationality and Borders Bill, which will make things even worse for lesbian, bisexual and trans women, but also for everyone fleeing persecution. You can find out more about our call to action or learn more about the work that we do.