Voices: LGBT+ refugees are some of the most persecuted – here’s how we help

In 2010, I became one of the very first people to be recognised with refugee protection in the UK on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. Shortly after, I founded the Say It Loud Club – a London based LGBT+ community support group.

As a well-known gay rights activist in Uganda, I was imprisoned and tortured, so I fled to the UK where I was forced to live without papers for five years. Since then, it has been my mission to help hundreds of LGBT+ refugees gain the right to live safely and freely in the UK.

Say It Loud Club strives to improve the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual and other sexual minority refugees and asylum seekers. From the first years of its foundation to the present day, my organisation has supported over 400 LGBT+ asylum seekers and refugees throughout the UK.

Our aim is to establish a grassroot support group to combat loneliness and isolation amongst its members. I believe this to be of fundamental need for LGBT+ asylum claimants who have suffered extreme persecution and endured potentially life altering experiences, after completing long and dangerous journeys to reach the UK. My focus is on providing support to our members, many of whom are trying to deal with unique situations due to their double marginality as a consequence of having multiple minority identities.

Looking back at my lived experience, it is clear to me that asylum seekers who identify as LGBT+ are vulnerable to isolation within immigrant communities as a result of perceived homophobia. Simultaneously, they face discrimination from local LGBT+ communities due to their multiple racial, religious and refugee status, making them susceptible to exclusion from mainstream society.

Overall, a variety of projects are carried out through a multidisciplinary interdependence, and exchange of ideas and expertise among experienced LGBT+ refugees, with the support of community based LGBTIQ+ committed volunteers and research students. Our goal is to create the ideal conditions for members to build confidence in order to live a more participatory and inclusive life.

We strive to improve the health and well-being of LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers, who experience disproportionately high levels of health inequalities compared with the general population.

Through my work with Say It Loud Club, I create unique opportunities to compare experiences and confront mutual challenges among our members. We achieve these aims by providing free services tailored to each individual directly, including group and one-to-one counselling support that improves individual’s self-esteem while reducing issues of stigma and discrimination, community engagement and advocacy through volunteering, and safe and conducive environments where refugees can openly discuss sexuality.

This is one of the strongest supports we can provide. For a claim for asylum to be granted, asylum seekers need to provide a credible narrative that proves their motives for escaping persecution due to sexual orientation. Many of our new members are deeply unfamiliar with disclosing their sexuality, and this becomes a serious issue with their account appearing untruthful to the granting authorities. Open discussions about sexuality help our members to become familiar with certain terminology and phrases, so they can create a more credible narrative in support of their future assessment.

We also offer peer support mentoring services where more experienced refugees disclose their health-related experiences with the aim of confronting and assisting with the many challenges that can negatively impact on LGBT+ asylum seekers and refugees’ health, and in-house workshops on LGBT+ rights and citizenship.

We’re proud to partner with other community organisations such as Choose Love, Doctors of the World, and Notting Hill Genesis Housing Association, among others.

Working as the director of Say It Loud Club has enabled me to set the agenda for our community-based development. What I have witnessed has helped me to fully understand the extraordinary value of creating a long-term justice process, with the aim of addressing power imbalances and establishing equality-based change.

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By helping LGBT+ asylum seekers and refugees to come together, gain empowerment and take action in response to their issues, I have seen how community advocacy improves the lives of everyone.

It gives me such joy to see the work that I and Say it Loud do supporting the active democratic life of those who have suffered extraordinary abuse, while promoting and strengthening the voices of those belonging to the most vulnerable communities.

My mission is for a country in which LGBT+ asylum seekers and refugees are afforded the rights and specialist support necessary for them to build new lives, free from the trauma of their past.

I didn’t know what to expect when I formed the charity, especially as there has been so much negativity and hostility towards refugees in general. Despite all this, we have developed into an amazing, member-led organisation that now commands respect and is at the forefront of advocacy for refugee rights in general. This work would not have been possible without the support of Choose Love, our amazing partner, made up of people who have supported our LGBT+ community, as well as standing with refugees regardless of their sexual orientation or gender.

Aloysius Ssali is the founder of the Say It Loud Club, a charity committed to providing social, emotional, educational and advocacy support for LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in the UK

Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.

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