Interview with Rosemary, a lesbian seeking asylum in the U.K.: ‘One thing that keeps me going is I keep feeling I will get there, but sometimes the future is really blank because of the way we’re being treated.’
Rosemary is an LGBTQ+ asylum seeker living in Leicester. She’s been through a lot on her journey to have the chance at starting a new life in a place where she can freely be herself. That journey seems to be far from over. As part of our #ShineBrightInColours campaign for this month, we are reflecting on LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees, we thought it would be a great opportunity to hear her personal experience.
Where do you come from, Rosemary?
Why did you leave Nigeria?
I left my country in 2007 because of who I am. In Nigeria, you are supposed to have kids and get married. There are some things you can’t escape, so I had to have children with a man because of the pressure I had from my parents, just so they could let me be. At first, I didn’t marry him because once you are with a man, he is in charge of your life and you are supposed to be together, so you can’t do what you used to when you were single.
You are part of the LGBT+ community, when did you find out?
When I was young I found out that I hated being with boys, a feeling that I didn’t understand or couldn’t explain back then. When I was in primary and secondary school, I wanted to be with girls but I didn’t recognise what my body was telling me. At the age of 12 or 13, when I was discovering my body, I didn’t want to grow up because I didn’t want to marry men because I didn’t like them.
However, you were forced to…
I was 32 when I had my first child and my mum was asking me when I was going to settle down. As I said, I had children but I didn’t want to get married. My mum insisted that I had to do the right thing or that I would bring shame to the family so we went to the registry.
Did your mother know about you being lesbian?
No, you can’t tell them. It is not like in here. You can’t say: hi, I’m a lesbian. That’s what the Home Office refuses to understand, they asked me how could I have kids if I was a lesbian. They didn’t understand that that doesn’t change who you are.
So what’s the situation for LGBTQ+ people in your country?
Where I come from, you can’t be caught if you are a lesbian. If you are out as a lesbian, you face 14 years in prison; that is if you are lucky enough that the police comes in time because they won’t help you because as they are against it. It is illegal and there is discrimination. You can’t even hold hands with your girlfriend. It’s out of the question. Nigeria is a huge country but there is nowhere where being LGBTQ+ is accepted.
If you can’t trust the police and the government, what happens if someone finds out about who you are?
The neighbours would kill you and nothing would happen because you have done something wrong and you are not welcome. Even if you go to the hospital and they know about you, they won’t help out. Nigeria is a very Christian country and if you are LGBTQ+, you are linked to the devil. People won’t treat you like a human being. However, in the presence of God, we are the same. God loves everybody, irrespective of who you are, so I wonder what the problem is.
You said you had a girlfriend back there, how did you manage?
The culture is different there. You are free to have women friends and nobody will suspect. Parents saw us as best friends, and we did pretend, but we knew who we were.
When did you think: right, I need to leave this country.
It all started because after being married, my husband caught me with my girlfriend. At first, he didn’t suspect anything because he thought we were only friends. When he caught us, he thought I ruined his whole life, that I brought shame to him, and he never stopped hunting me. He told my family and the neighbours were against it, so I lost my job and my life was in danger. There was nothing I could do, so my girlfriend kept me safe at her place and she planned my escape. I then went to Germany, and from there I came to England, because I was struggling with the language. A member of a church drove me all the way from Germany to England.
How did you feel when you arrived here?
I didn’t know anyone. I was helped by the black community. I was going from one place to another and I didn’t know that I could claim asylum. I wasn’t out because I needed help and I had to protect myself, I needed to be safe. I’ve been through a lot since then. I was in a detention centre in 2015. I met another woman from Nigeria and we became girlfriends. She said it was my choice to decide whether to come out or to go back to a place where I’d be killed. I wrote a letter about my sexuality to the people at the detention centre but I withheld it before they could read it. I did finally apply for asylum and got out of there although I didn’t come out then. After that, I got some support from Out and Proud in London and then I discovered the Leicester LGBT Centre and Pride Without Borders. They are my family now, I am not scared to be out anymore. The people who knew me before I came out don’t even say hi to me because they think I am infectious, but I don’t care. This is my life, what makes me happy even though I am still going through the asylum application process and the Home Office doesn’t care.
When you applied for asylum, you mentioned you were part of the LGBTQ+ community. How did that go?
They didn’t believe me. I went to the interview, to the court hearing, and they didn’t believe me. I don’t know what’s what they want. My application was rejected and I lost everything, including my cash allowance. I even became homeless for a month.
So what happened?
I fought back and proved that my mental health was being affected by the situation. After being in court, I was allowed to have a place to live and I am currently waiting for the result of my fresh claim.
You mentioned the Leicester LGBT Centre, was it helpful for you?
I was happy but very anxious to come to see you. The Centre was fantastic and it made me feel good. I became a member and I’ve been benefiting from many of the services you offer.
Now you and your friends have decided to create a group for LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers.
Yes, Free To Fly. It’s a great chance for us to interact and help each other because we are in the same boots and we are going through the same problems. We are very new but we will get there. The group meets every Thursday from 1.30 pm at the Centre.
Rosemary…how do you feel about the future?
Future? Future? One thing that keeps me going is I keep feeling I will get there, but sometimes the future is really blank because of the way we’re being treated. I’ve put my fresh claim I am just waiting, I don’t know what will come out. I am anxious every day. You know what it’s like when you are waiting for something that never comes, and maybe when it comes…Future…I don’t know, I don’t know. I really can’t… (She sighs).