Uganda, Africa is hellacious for LGBTQ people. In addition to signing a (thankfully invalidated) 2014 law punishing “aggravated homosexuality” with life in prison, LGBTQ people face widespread discrimination, harassment and violence just for their sexual orientation and gender identity. So it’s especially enraging to hear that the U.S. recently ordered a lesbian woman to be sent back to Uganda after she’d fled there following “beatings, torture, and a ‘corrective’ rape ordered by her own father.” She’s just one of many LGBTQ refugees stuck in a system whose rules aren’t clearly understood by those who need its protection most.
A common tale of LGBTQ refugees fleeing violence
The 23-year-old woman, known in the press only as “L,” grew up in a small southern Uganda community and fell in love with her girlfriend “E” while in school, but they had to keep their relationship a secret for five years or else face persecution.
Once, when having sex together in a hotel room, a bunch of men kicked their door open and barged in, catching them in the act.
According to The Daily Beast, “The men dragged them out to the street, and began throwing stones at them and beating them. The crowd swelled with onlookers. Then the attackers poured paraffin gas on both women. Some started looking for old tires.” They wanted to set the women on fire.
Instead, the police showed up, arrested them for “immorality,” took them to jail and tortured and beat them instead. After they were released, L and E moved to a big city in Uganda, hoping to escape persecution there, but L’s father had hired a man to hunt her down, rape and impregnate her as a way of turning her straight, a practice known as “corrective rape.” Her rape happened on Nov. 4, 2016.
When she reported it to police, they charged her with sodomy and recruiting young people into homosexuality and jailed and beat her for two days. That’s when she decided to flee the country.
LGBTQ refugees don’t always understand the U.S. asylum process
L got a valid student visa and, on Aug. 25, 2017, she came to the United States to be with her cousin in Seattle, Washington. But she was stopped by customs officer at the Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. and, due to the stress of questioning and post-traumatic stress disorder, she admitted that she had no plans to attend school as a student. She also didn’t mention the trauma she endured in Uganda, “declined the opportunity to apply for political asylum and denied any fear of returning to her home country.”
If this doesn’t make any sense, it’s important to remember that LGBTQ refugees who’ve been abused for their sexual orientation by officials in their home countries sometimes fear the same treatment by representatives of other countries if they reveal their LGBTQ identity. So they keep it a secret.
If she had told customs officials that she was seeking asylum, she would’ve received special protections. But since she didn’t, so customs officials ordered her removal from the U.S. and arranged a return flight to Uganda for her. Instead, she hid in the airport bathroom and missed her flight.
She began sleeping at the airport and at nearby hotels while an immigration lawyer and the United Nations (U.N.) High Commission on Refugees began taking a closer look at her case. Although people from the U.N. brought her clothes, money and toiletries, she has since been deported to Kenya (another African country where homosexuality is illegal thanks to British colonial-era laws) and is stuck there until lawyers and the U.N. figure out how to keep her safe.
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