Davis Mac-Iyalla, a gay Nigerian man who received asylum in the U.K., told the Washington Blade on Friday from London that he is “concerned” about the impact the referendum results will have on LGBT asylum seekers. Mac-Iyalla specifically expressed concern that “those fleeing persecution will not be sent back to countries where its unsafe for them.”
“Many LGBT refugee and asylum seekers talking to me are worried about how they will be treated with this outcome,” Mac-Iyalla told the Blade.
The European Court of Justice, which is the European Union’s highest court, in 2013 ruled those who face incarceration in their countries of origin because of their sexual orientation could receive asylum in the U.K. and the bloc’s 27 other member states. The European Court of Justice in 2014 said countries within the European Union cannot require gay asylum seekers to prove their homosexuality.
Geoffrey Ross, a gay British man who has lived in Paris for 40 years, is among those who backed the “remain” campaign that supported the U.K.’s membership in the European Union.
He told the Blade on Friday during a telephone interview from the French capital that LGBT asylum seekers have been deported from the U.K. because “they haven’t been able to establish to the authorities that there is a risk if they return home.” Ross also noted the anti-immigrant rhetoric that became more heated in the weeks leading up to the referendum.
“It could get worse because there’s an overwhelming climate of it’s all the immigrants’ fault,” he told the Blade. “That might also spread to LGBT asylum seekers.”
U.K. voters gave ‘into a fear of the unknown’
The Brexit referendum passed by a 52-48 percent margin, with the majority of voters in England and Wales supporting the “leave” campaign. The referendum failed in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The vote took place against the backdrop of an influx of refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq and other countries into Europe.
The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibilities for a series of terrorist attacks in Paris last November that left 130 people dead and more than 300 others injured.
The Sunni militant group also took credit for attacks at Brussels Airport and at a subway station in the Belgian capital in March that killed 32 people and left more than 300 others injured. A gunman who pledged his allegiance to the so-called Islamic State killed 49 people inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on June 12.
Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party who spearheaded the “leave” campaign, sparked outrage last week when he unveiled a poster featuring a group of migrants waiting to enter Slovenia that said, “We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders.” Thomas Mair — a 52-year-old man with ties to a neo-Nazi group — allegedly stabbed Labor Party MP Jo Cox — who supported the “remain” campaign — to death on June 16.
Max Sycamore, a gay man from London who married his American husband in D.C. earlier this year, expressed disappointment over the referendum results.
“People in my country without a strong world view have given into a fear of the unknown,” he told the Blade on Friday.
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday conceded his country is “not perfect” after announcing his plan to resign.
“I do believe we can be a model of a multi-racial, multi-faith democracy, where people can come and make a contribution and rise to the very highest that their talent allows,” he said.
Peter Tatchell, a prominent LGBT activist who is a member of the pro-European Union Green Party, told the Blade on Friday that the referendum results are “a victory for the right.” He noted that the U.K. Independence Party and most Conservative Party MPs who supported the “leave” campaign opposed marriage rights for same-sex couples as recently as three years ago when British lawmakers approved a gay nuptials law for England and Wales.
“We could see more restrictions on refugees being given asylum in the U.K., including LGBTI ones fleeing persecution in countries like Syria, Belarus, Iran and Uganda,” Tatchell told the Blade.
European Union has been ‘good for LGBT people’
The U.K. is ranked third in ILGA-Europe’s latest report that ranks 49 European countries on their pro-LGBT laws.
Consensual same-sex sexual acts were decriminalized in England and Wales in 1967, six years before the U.K. joined what became the European Union. Scotland and Northern Ireland legalized homosexuality in 1980 and 1982 respectively.
England, Wales and Scotland are among the European countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry. Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly last November approved a motion in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples, but the majority Democratic Unionist Party effectively blocked it.
“There can be no doubt that the EU has been good for LGBT people in terms of rights and visibility — hostility towards LGBT people has been steadily decreasing across Europe with the assurance of rights increased,” John O’Doherty of the Rainbow Project, an LGBT advocacy group in Northern Ireland, told the Blade on Friday.
Other activists in the U.K. and across Europe also credit the European Union with expanding LGBT rights throughout the continent.
Countries that seek to join the bloc must agree to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Transgender Europe said on Friday that “the gains achieved in trans rights over the past years would have happened at a much slower rate without the European Union.”
“Over our 20-year history, we have supported the work of our dedicated U.K. membership, and learned just as much from them in return,” added ILGA-Europe in a statement. “So, as a European network of human rights activists, we naturally regret the fact that the U.K. will no long be a voice for progress in the European Union.”
O’Doherty noted to the Blade that Northern Ireland is the only country within the U.K. that has a land border with a European Union member state.
Ireland in May 2015 became the first country in the world to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples through a popular vote. O’Doherty said that married LGBT people who live near the border “face confusion and uncertainty while going about their daily activity, which often involves crossing the border.”
“We can only hope that the U.K.’s exit from the European Union will not have a detrimental impact on the European LGBT community and that future U.K. governments and political leaders will continue to ensure the inequalities experienced by LGBT people in the U.K. are addressed,” he told the Blade.