I am going to touch on a very small issue that I encountered whilst in Italy, but one that I think needs some attention given the current situation taking place in Chechnya.
A little info: For those unaware, this story carries personal interest for me as a cisgendered gay man who in the past has experienced violence at the hands of homophobes. Cisgender(ed) (often abbreviated to simply cis) is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.
Over dinner one evening, I happened to ask one or two of the Mediterranean Hope staff about the plight of LGBT*+ migrants that make the journey across the Mediterranean in search of a safer, accepting and affirming way of life. Sadly the answer I was given was not one that filled me with hope.
The thought was one that had echoed true to me before I went as I have a friend (Fr.B) who works regularly with an organisation in the United Kingdom which counsels and supports migrants who are facing being deported and the only reason they are able to apply for asylum in the United Kingdom because of their sexual or gender identity.
There are numerous stories that can be pulled up very quickly via Google which will detail migrants and asylum seekers being very quickly deported because they are unable to ‘prove’ their sexual or gender identity. This is by no means the issue in Italy on the frontier as it is not something that is asked about.
Let that sink in.
Sexual and gender identity is not asked about. There are a whole host reasons as to why this could be the case but the one that the staff seemed to reference the most was the fact that the migrants themselves did not wish to declare their sexual identity and more so if they weren’t cisgendered due to generally assuming that all Italians would be Catholic, conservative and therefore would not approve of trans/queer/gender fluid/non-heterosexual migrants and that it would prove harder for them to get help in Italy. The other issue with this though is that quite often those who have fled for this very reason are fleeing persecution in their own country, therefore, declaring their gender or sexual identity in the midst of their own nationals would also be unwise as they would face discrimination or abuse.
It is all well and good that my friend Fr.B is able to do work with queer migrants and to fight their corner once they arrive in this country or indeed face deportation but the frontier teams need to rally together to protect migrants who aren’t cis-het (cisgendered-heterosexual) because the issue is growing and shows no sign of slowing down. Migrants are deported on a regular basis because they are unable to prove their sexual or gender orientation and the judicial system in the UK doesn’t want to deal with the situation.
The best way that we can combat this is simple. Migrants are human beings, you are a human being, how would you feel if I sent you to a country where you could be put on trial and face death for being left-handed, ginger or female. If we show those who’s stories we don’t know the same love that we show every other human being and remember that we have same basic needs and human rights, the entire situation becomes less confusing and intimidating and much easier to deal with.