The Tragic and Preventable Death of a Lesbian Asylum Seeker to the UK Highlights the Need for Global Queer Activism

Ugandan woman Jackie Nanyonjo came to the United Kingdom five years ago. She had escaped from a forced marriage. Her husband had tortured her when he discovered she was lesbian. I imagine her feeling the heavy weight of relief and loss as she participated in campaigns for gay rights and asylum rights in her new home. I hope she had moments of uncontainable joy in living openly as a lesbian, and being loved by another woman. I hope friends told her how incredibly brave she was – to survive her torture and escape – during the dark hours.

On January 10, the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) told her she was to be deported back to Uganda. Despite evidence from her lesbian partner and others in the GBLT community, UKBA refused to believe she was lesbian. They turned down her application for asylum.

She was beaten brutally by the four security guards who accompanied her on her flight back. After she was held by Ugandan authorities at the airport, her family rushed her to a medical clinic. Unfortunately, her health declined over the next two months with insufficient medical treatment for her injuries, and she died on March 8.

A protest outside the home office called for Home Secretary, Theresa May to resign. You can read more about how to participate in protests here. There is also a Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/movementforjustice

Jackie’s death highlights the flaws in the refugee system. Asylum seekers – those who most need our support and trust – are treated as criminals. Asylum seekers on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity still meet the institutionalised heteronormativity and structural racism of first world nations. What made Jackie seem “not gay enough” to the case officer assessing her application? How much did the fear of a shrinking public sector and need to lower costs – the inability to accept everybody – loom in the case officer’s mind?

Jackie’s death signals to us –  queer and migrant communities – that our allegiances to so-called “just” and homonormative nations are less salient then our allegiances to each other and those who are most vulnerable. We need to use our collective voices wisely and powerfully.

With the shrinking authority of the Commonwealth, Britain is much more reliant on public diplomacy – engagement with foreign publics – than ever before. Global public outrage about the needless death of Jackie Nanyonjo is perhaps the only thing likely to bring about much needed changes to the system for asylum seekers.

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