Since the 1990s Australian law has recognised sexual persecution as grounds for refugee asylum. Still, applicants are forced to go through a protracted process of proving their “gayness.” This excellent video features University of Sydney researcher and activist Senthorun Raj telling the story of Ravi, a Bangladeshi asylum seeker, who was forced not just to establish his sexuality, but to defend his commitment to his queerness. Ravi’s problem was that he was not “visibly” gay in the way the law expected. Yet refuge law on persecution is not simply about looks or physical persecution.
LGBTIQ persecution does not always involve physical violence. Persecution can manifest in persisting psychological abuse, coerced concealment, the inability to subsist, or systemic discrimination that is legitimated/ tolerated by the state.
In the video, Ravi notes that while his first sexual encounter with a man was consensual it was not pleasurable. This is part of sexuality: we can be attracted to people and not necessarily always enjoy sex equally with everyone. Ravi had also had sex with a woman in the past. This undermined his case as a gay man in the eyes of the Refugee Tribunal. They did not believe that Ravi had “made up his mind” about being gay because of this prior experience.
Heterosexism is a sociological term describing how social life is defined and measured through heterosexual ideals. Everyone is presumed to be straight unless they do or say thing that appear “non-heterosexual.” In Ravi’s case, he is asked to represent and defend his queer identity against heterosexual ideas about what it means to be gay.
As Raj points out, sexuality is fluid. Some people can be gay and yet still have had sexual experiences with the opposite gender, or they can gay and not have slept with many people, and you can be gay and not necessarily have enjoyed all your sexual encounters. This works the same for heterosexual people, and yet this somehow doesn’t invalidate their heterosexuality.
This is such an important video to explore the sociology of refugee law and the intersections between migration and queer theory. The story is illustrated wonderfully by Australian artist on Tumblr, Sam Wallman (penerasespaper).