Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people seeking asylum – including those living with HIV – face a lack of specialist support and services in the UK, according to new research.

LGBT people seek asylum in the UK to escape persecution, violence and the real threat of death in their own countries. However,
as So So Gay reported recently, research shows that many experience humiliating questioning by Home Office case workers, and some feel pressured to provide graphic photographs or videos of themselves involved in sexual acts to prove their sexual orientation. The research, led by Jennifer New from the University of Liverpool, and in collaboration with Sahir House, Merseyside and North Cheshire’s HIV charity, will be presented at an event as part of the annual Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Festival of Social Science.

‘This research project will have a significant impact on improving services for LGBT people seeking asylum in the UK, including those living with HIV,’ says Steve Earle, Services Manager at the Sahir House charity, which provides services to people living with and affected by HIV in Merseyside and North Cheshire.

‘Problems in the UK asylum process include the degrading nature of Home Office interviews and the extremes that people have to go to, to “prove” their sexual orientation or gender identity.’

In particular, the charity found that Home Office case workers displayed a lack of understanding of sexual orientation, gender identity, and of homophobia and transphobia in people’s countries of origin. Another issue identified by Sahir House was the lack of research relating to the needs and experiences of LGBT people, particularly of trans people.

Their research identified a lack of specialist support for LGBT people seeking asylum, including those living with HIV, and a lack of ‘safe spaces’ where LGBT people could disclose their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or HIV status. The study highlighted a need for greater visibility of existing services as well as a need for specialist training for frontline staff in public and third sector agencies. The research also found there is a need for greater access to good quality legal support, and for specialist interpreters who understand issues around sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV.

On 6 November in Liverpool, the research findings will be discussed at Seeking Asylum in the UK: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) Perspectives, a conference for social scientists, professionals and activists working in this field. The event is part of the ESRC’s flagship annual Festival of Social Science.