This Is Who I Am

Then they separated us. We tried to say no, we applied for asylum as a couple. They say we don’t have any civil evidence that we are a couple. And we’re like “how can we show you any civil evidence if homosexuality is forbidden in my country?”

This Is Who I Am – First-hand accounts of LGBT+ people seeking asylum in the UK

As part of the 2017 And What? Queer Arts Festival  we launched This is Who I Am; verbatim testimonies from LGBT+ refugees about their experiences in their own country and on arrival in the UK, addressing the particular challenges they face. Read by special guest performers and speakers, the reading was accompanied by queer songs and a post show discussion led by refugee advocacy groups African Rainbow Family, The First Wednesday group and Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants

The  testimonies were collected over many months of engagement with members of the First Wednesday group at the LGBT Foundation in Manchester. Special thanks also goes to Crisis. The script is available on request through our Actors for Human Rights network.

“The four monologues simply but powerfully illustrate the pain, hurdles and humiliation they encounter and are given an unadorned reading… the accounts speak for themselves and allow a light to be shone on the plight of a particular group of refugees that are ignored or met with incomprehension or minimisation of what they go through.” Audience Member

“It was an emotional evening for me. I was proud that voices from our First Wednesday group were being heard and applauded by a truly appreciative audience. I was privileged to be part of a discussion panel dealing with questions about the failings and injustices of the asylum process as it is experienced by LGBT people seeking asylum” Philip Jones, 1st Wednesday

“Told verbatim, read from scripts and cast in contrast to the people the actors represented allowed the honest recounts to be respectfully given centre stage. Victor, Denise and Dembes’ powerful words were so painful that any other dramatic intervention would have been a distraction…A fantastic fusion of theatre, discussion, awareness” OneSceneOne Theatre Reviews

Cast
Simon Amstell
Fisayo Akinade
Amanda Drew
Margaret Nankabirwa

Sadie Sinner The Songbird

Dan Gillespie-Sells

Panel

Aderonke Apata – African Rainbow Family
Sebastian Aguirre – ice&fire
Philip Jones – First Wednesday
Harry Jefferson-Perry – Lesbians & Gays Support the Migrants

Creative responses to This Is Who I Am…

Exploring the intersections between work, art, and policy

Aleks Selim Dughman Manzur

I want to start by acknowledge that I’m a settler in Turtle Island and I’m participating in this gathering from treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit and the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, the Wendat and the Haudenosaunee. The territory is within the lands protected by the DISH WITH ONE SPOON WAMPUN BELT covenant, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the Anishnaabe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. Today, Takaronto is home to many indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island, and I am grateful to live, work and play on this land.

Thank you, PJ, Dumile, Joseph and Seb, for this very compelling art piece based in reality. The power of being able to tell our stories and retell our stories and reclaim our lives is essential to our survival and our thriving.  I feel so honoured to witness the resilience and becoming of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers from around the world.

I want to share a few words I just wrote Inspired in what I just heard:

Conversion therapy

forced marriage

suicide attempts

secrecy

coming out, staying in

no celebration, always in control

nightmares

hide, hide, hide,

who? who is my role model?

Violence

sexual violence

abuse

resilience

joy

life

hide, hide, hide,

dreams, always in control

shake it, shake it off, shake it off.

This is who I am.

Do you see me? Am I here?

Liberation, liberation,

I seek what you seek,

Do you see me? This is who I am

Around the world LGBTQI+ people faced violence, discrimination, and persecution, sometimes on a daily basis to the point of having no other choice than to flee persecution and see refuge elsewhere.

Today, 71 countries criminalise private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity.  At least 6 countries implement the death penalty – Iran, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen – and the death penalty is a legal possibility in Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar and UAE. And 15 jurisdictions criminalise the gender identity and/or expression of transgender people[1].

LGBTQI newcomers and refugees escaping SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sexual characteristics) persecution believe that Canada is a safe haven, that they will be free of hardship. In some ways this is true, however, one microaggressions at a time, one refusal to access at a time, one year of unemployment at time they come to the realization that they have traded one kind of oppression for another.

Systemic Racism is everywhere and infuses our public institutions. Along with ableism, transphobia, sexism. Through art and narrative, we shed a light on our systemic failures and address the structures that allow it to thrive and operate.

In thinking about the designed and implementation of public policies the question about narrative is vital. Who gets to tell our stories? Do we see our stories reflected in the policies or are the policies creating the narratives about who we are? How can policies reflect our narratives and our stories when they are being drafted by individuals far removed from our realities? When I observe policy makers in higher positions of power. I see mostly whiteness. I hardly see myself and my communities.

Art is a way of empowering communities. The understanding that the conditions of inequity are created by the dominant culture and not rooted on the premise that marginalised communities have a deficit. Through art, we get a chance to take back the narrative, to tell our stories and informed those in power of the realities that they need to account for when designing and implementing policies for. Hopefully, we can then also become those in positions of power and make meaningful systemic change.

In the case of Viktor (Kazakhstan) homosexuality is not a crime since 1997 but it continues to be socially forbidden. Here art can be becomes a tool for social transformational change. But it also speaks of the need to have the letter of the law go hand in hand with policies aiming at educating civil society and protecting the rights of LGBTQI folks.

Denise points out to the truth of representation and visibility seeing yourself as a teenager in others. Being able to exchange ideas without fear. When we grow up in oppressive systems, art might be the only way to hold a dialogue with who we are, a dialogue with our communities and to see ourselves reflected in others when speaking loudly is not safe.

Laura’s experience of disownment, displacement, leaving family, leaving land. The loss and grief and the search for home and family have created subversive queer families, chosen families beyond the binary and the biological. Through art we reimagine reality, we pushed the boundaries of what is socially accepted, we recreate and redefine concepts and we find home.

Much of our queer survival is rooted in the reimagination of other worlds and possibilities. When this reality is oppressive and impossible, we say if not this reality, then a new reality. We heal through the telling of our stories and give others an opportunity to empathize and experience with us a little bit of who we are. Art as a tool for social change allows us to say so much more and deeply impact the viewer and the listener.

Art as a tool to transform the institutions and share/redistribute power.  To share power in the highest places means for some stepping back and letting others lead. Sharing power is not just recruiting for formal leadership positions but allowing deep transformation of what we have considered our traditional institutions and the ways we generally do things. Means decentering Eurocentric models and allowing racialized bodies to become the model.

I am transformed when you are transformed. This is relational. Through art the community is in the best place to explore and determine its own needs, and ultimately tell their stories and demand transformation.

[1] Based on the data found in https://www.humandignitytrust.org/lgbt-the-law/map-of-criminalisation/

Aleks Selim Dughman Manzur (J.D., LL.M.) is a transmasculine Chilean born Palestinian who migrated to Canada in 2008. They are a foreign trained lawyer specialising in human rights, women’s rights, reproductive and sexual health law, LGBTQI+ rights, and refugee rights.

Aleks is Programming Director and co-lead of Rainbow Refugee Society and Vice-President of the Canadian Council for Refugees. Their role focusses on facilitating SOGIESC sponsorships, designing programs and services for LGBTQI+ newcomers, and advocating for the rights of refugees at all levels of government.

Humanity

We live in a country of selective humanity

Where people are broken

And we refuse to see?

My empathy is not empathy if it only extends to those who look like me

But I guess it’s fine if that brings you austerity

 

Because the quotas are rising as our humanity falls

But you’re got your own issues

You ignore the calls

To reform a system that discriminates

But you’re not a racist

Come on mate

How many foreign bodies will it take?

 

Because we do not give our humanity freely

Where do you come from? No, no, originally

Do you not understand your silence is complicity

Movement after movement we still refuse to see

That the people who need us really are just like you and me

In that they’re people

Yet you still hold back your humanity

And pretend it’s not because they come from somewhere you’ve never been

 

Why do you make everything about sexuality

Why do I make everything about sexuality?

I’m just trying to live

While you stereotype and prototype ideas for your new gay best friend

Yet turn away those who can’t prove they’re part of the lgbt community

You’ve proven time and time again that gay graves are not graves they are numbers on a screen

For you to flick past drinking your morning tea

Thinking well I don’t have to worry about that me

 

Couldn’t we be doing things differently?

You invented the separation to excuse your own bigotry

Your kindness is insignificant if it doesn’t extend beyond you and me

Sat in our houses flippantly

Discussing whether people should be allowed to be?

Well that should be the responsibility of their country

So you would rather them die than live among them deliberately

Max, Croydon High School

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