A new pilot study into LGBTQI+ experiences of immigration detention since September 2016 indicates that LGBTQI+ people continue to face harassment, bullying and deteriorating mental health while in immigration detention.  

The study, conducted by Dr Laura Harvey at the University of Brighton and supported by Rainbow Migration, looks at the experiences in detention of five members of the LGBTQI+ community – three gay men and two non-binary people. Four of the participants were held in Immigration Removal Centres for several months, and one in a Short-Term Holding Facility for 48 hours. 


Key findings – LGBTQI+ people not safe in immigration detention 

Participants in the research experienced verbal and physical homophobic abuse from other people held in detention, including from individuals they were forced to share locked rooms with at night. Usman* described how he reported someone who “spat on my face for being a gay”, but was still made to share a room with this person until they attacked him physically. 

As a result of this violence and intimidation, participants feared being ‘out’ while in detention and felt a need to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, they were not always able to do this despite trying to, so they remained exposed to the risk of bullying and abuse. Johnson* said: “I don’t want to hide my sexuality here but I didn’t tell anyone because I was so scared.” 

Although some participants found staff to be a source of help and support, others reported problems including verbal homophobic abuse from staff, being afraid to report homophobic bullying to staff, inaction from staff in the face of escalating homophobic bullying and misgendering by staff. 

Overall, participants experienced worsening mental health and delayed access to mental health support while in detention, as well as being put in situations that resembled past traumatic experiences.  

Johnson* had suffered violent homophobic attacks in their home country – including one in which their partner was killed – and was identified by a GP in detention as needing mental health support. However they waited three months to be seen by a psychiatrist, during which time they had to share a locked room with someone who was openly homophobic towards them.  


Ending LGBTQI+ detention remains as urgent as ever 

The research aimed to explore whether experiences of LGBTQI+ people in detention had changed significantly since the last piece of research on this topic in 2016 and after the introduction of the Adults at Risk in Immigration Detention policy that same year, which recognised the heightened risk of harm to trans and intersex people in detention.  

According to the findings, LGBTQI+ people still face considerable and ongoing risk of harm in immigration detention in the UK. The data suggest that detention centres are inherently risky for LGBTQI+ people, who are trapped in a space that they cannot leave, in which abuse and harassment are difficult to escape. 

With the government now increasing its use of immigration detention it is crucial they recognise that people who cannot be kept safe from harm in detention should never be placed there. That applies to all members of the LGBTQI+ community. 

If you agree please email your MP to ask if they oppose LGBTQI+ detention and let us know their response. 

* All names used for participants are pseudonyms to protect their anonymity. 

For more information about the pilot study please see the research report or summary of key findings.