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The gross, grim irony of the UK Home Office’s Pride rebrand

The UK government continues to deport and endanger LGBTQ+ asylum seekers – immigrant support organisations explain the deplorable ‘pinkwashing’

It’s June, and ‘pinkwashing’ or ‘rainbow capitalism’ is everywhere – that is, corporate logos turning multi-coloured for Pride month. But the UK Home Office redecorating its logo is an example of peak meaningless activism, given that it continues to deport LGBTQ+ asylum seekers to countries that are unsafe for them.

The hostile environment policy, which began under Theresa May, continues to make life difficult and dangerous for queer refugees and asylum seekers. In 2019, it was revealed that the Home Office refused at least 3,100 LGBTQ+ asylum claims, including from people in Pakistan and Nigeria where same-sex acts are punishable by life in prison and up to 14 years in prison, respectively.

A gay man who was recently forced to flee his home country after being drugged and subjected to conversion therapy by his family is currently surviving on £6 a day while he waits for the Home Office to process his application. The government agency previously attempted to deport gay rugby player Ken Macharia to Kenya, a country where sex acts between men are illegal. It has also been known to ask for evidence of asylum seekers’ sexuality by providing photos or videos of sexual acts. Research carried out by the University of Sussex found that almost 30 per cent of those seeking asylum on grounds related to their sexual orientation had their claims dismissed because interviewers did not believe them.

”The Home Office wants us to believe that they are allies to the LGBTQ+ community, but the reality is that they put queer people’s lives at risk every day,” says SOAS Detainee Support, a group working in solidarity with people affected by immigration detention. The organisation has recently been attempting to ground a flight that they believe is deporting up to 30 people to Albania where, although same-sex acts are legal, same-sex couples do not have the same legal protections as opposite-gender couples. The flight is being undertaken by TUI UK, whose Twitter logo is also striped in rainbow colours, and who has been the primary airline operating deportations as part of ‘Operation Sillath’, a pre-Brexit Home Office initiative to deport people who entered the UK via perilous channel crossings.

“At its most extreme,” SOAS continues, “this means detaining LGBTQ+ people in Immigration Removal Centres like Yarl’s Wood where they are disproportionately at risk of abuse, and deporting them to countries where their lives are in danger. The ever-present threat of detention and deportation puts huge pyschological, physical, and financial strain on queer people with precarious migration status. When it comes to people applying for asylum on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, the Home Office has given themselves the final word on who is or isn’t queer, setting increasingly difficult standards of proof that many people will never be able to fulfil.”

“If the Home Office truly supported the queer community, they would celebrate Pride Month by cancelling their Borders bill which will prevent LGBTQ+ people from finding permanent sanctuary in the UK,” says Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, which works to support migrants in immigration detention. “They would also end their practice of indefinitely detaining LGBTQ+ people who come to the UK seeking safety from persecution simply for who they are or who they love.”

While harming the community it claims to support via its logo rebrand, the Home Office should instead listen to campaigners who are urging the government to look after LGBTQ+ people who are claim asylum, with thousands facing imprisonment, torture, and the death penalty worldwide for their sexuality. “We must be clear that the transparent pinkwashing of a rainbow flag on a government logo doesn’t fool us: the Home Office is one of the largest sources of violence in the lives of queer migrants,” SOAS adds. “There is no pride in deportations. There is no pride in borders.”