The UK Home Office has used ignorant views on sexuality, socialisation and social pressures to deny the asylum seeking claims of Aderonke Apata as they fight to return her to Nigeria, where she faces persecution for being lesbian.
Ms Apata has been forced to submit concrete “evidence” of her sex life in an attempt to show that she has genuine reason to fear for her safety if she is returned to Nigeria.
The penalty for homosexuality in Nigeria is up to 14 years in prison, with homophobic violence increasing and laws specifically targeting lesbians.
The Home Office rejected her request for asylum on the grounds that she has previously been in heterosexual relationships and has children. They have also relied on stereotypes to reject her bid, citing her initial “feminine” appearance and long hair.
In the High Court challenge to the Home Office’s rejection of her case, the Home Office’s representative claimed that Ms Apata was not “not part of the social group known as lesbians” but had “indulged in same-sex activity” and that “You can’t be a heterosexual one day and a lesbian the next day. Just as you can’t change your race.”
In countries where being lesbian is frowned upon, and where women are socialised to be heterosexual, married and mothers, it is not at all surprising that many lesbians have been in heterosexual relationships, either under direct or indirect pressure, or for other reasons. Across the board, women identify their lesbianism at different ages, and women are often prevented from living AS a lesbian by internalised and externalised homophobia, social structures and other elements of their lives.
Where there are laws threatening lesbians with jail or worse, this pressure will be significantly increased as is evident in this case, with Ms Apata claiming that her brother and three year old son were murdered, after she was sentenced to death for adultery by a Sharia court. Ms Apata also claimed that her ex-girlfriend was killed in a 2012 attack.
To reject the asylum claims of a vulnerable woman on the basis of her performance of heterosexuality, where the consequences of failing to perform is extreme, is to punish Ms Apata for her own oppression. Her legal challenge to the Home office’s decision to reject her initial claim will only exacerbate the persecution she will face if returned.
The approach of the Home Office ignores what we know about the varied path to living as a lesbian . It also invisibilises the pressures women face by assuming women’s life choices are freely undertaken, which we know not to be the case even in the UK, the US and Australia, let alone where the penalties for transgressing proscribed social roles are so extreme.
In returning Ms Apata to Nigeria, the UK government is reinforcing age old sterotypes of what it means to be lesbian and is denying the harsh reality of how lesbians are both punished and repressed.
Their fight to return Ms Apata to a country in which she has been persecuted for being lesbian highlights a structural homophobia in the UK, and makes them complicit in any persecution she faces if returned to Nigeria.