LGBTI asylum seekers on Manus Island are living in fear of revealing their sexuality or gender.
The number of asylum seekers who are LGBTI is unknown because Papua New Guinea’s laws forbidding homosexuality force them into silence, according to journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani, writing in The Guardian.
Boochani described the moment five years ago when a “serious, decisive, to the point and threatening” immigration officer read out a statement to the prison camp, warning that homosexuality was illegal.
“Homosexuality is illegal in Papua New Guinea and considered as a crime,” the officer said.
“If anyone in the immigration detention engages in this behaviour, he will be sentenced to 14 years in prison.”
Later, a gay refugee known as Alex, banished by his family in Iran, stood in the same place to announce, “I am gay, and this is my sexual identity, I am gay and that’s why I left my country, I announce it loudly and clearly: I am gay.”
Boochani called Alex’s public coming out “nothing short of a revolution” against an oppressive community and system.
“His performance was undoubtedly inspired by the immigration performance, but this one was a revolt against law, against discrimination, against the system and the community, which considered him as ‘other’ and ‘different’,” he wrote.
“Alex announced his sexual identity loudly in opposition to a system fundamentally designed to represent him and other refugees as devoid of human identity.”
Alex was allegedly raped twice while on Manus Island, his complaints going “completely ignored” by officials.
His experiences and suffering led other gay asylum seekers to keep hiding their sexuality.
“It got to the point that if they let others know about their sexual orientation, if they moved in line with Alex, they would face further isolation, targeting and social pressure,” Boochani wrote.
“In the prison, intentionally designed to destroy the human identity of prisoners, where prisoners are nothing more than numbers living a mechanical existence, revealing that matter would cost them dearly, leading them to further isolation and depression.”
Boochani said the suffering on Manus Island has been “disastrous”.
“No one knows how many gay, transgender or bisexual refugees live on Manus, but what is clear is that the suffering they experienced in their countries has been repeated on Manus in a disastrous way,” he wrote.
“Fear, humiliation, threat, banishment, rape—these are all concepts and experiences lived daily by these men.”
Australian activist group No Pride in Detention has called for LGBTI community solidarity with asylum seekers, saying the same energy put into campaigning for marriage equality could be spent fighting for the rights of those on Manus Island and Nauru.