AUSTRALIA’S leading human rights advocate has called on LGBTI Australians to step up and do more to support LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers, otherwise known as rainbow refugees.

“I wonder if the LGBT community themselves can start to widen and build upon that public education and sympathy for LGBTI causes,” said Australian Human Rights Commission president Professor Gillian Triggs.

She was speaking at a Queer Thinking forum on Wednesday night about LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees that hosted by Pitt St Uniting Church and the Uniting Network, and held as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival.

Moderated by Reverend Margaret Mayman, Triggs was part of a panel featuring prominent gay rights activist and author Dennis Altman, Asylum Seekers Centre chief operating officer Che Bishop, Imam Nur Warsame of Marhaba Melbourne and Tina Posunkina from the Refugee Advice and Casework Service.

It is estimated about 5000 people seek asylum annually around the world, with 40 people seeking help weekly at the Newtown Asylum Seekers Centre alone.

Triggs spoke of the need to make the burden of proof more relatable to rainbow refugees who may have spent their whole lives concealing their sexuality or who did not have the same western concepts to express their sexuality.

“Asylum seekers who are LGBTI/queer suffer very particular disadvantages when making legal claims for protection. They’re subject to decision makers who are very poorly trained in LGBTI issues, they tend to operate on a stereotypical basis,” she told the packed church.

“An important case is the Knox case. Here in the process of determining the refugee status, the Refugee Review Tribunal asked if the applicant used lubricant to have sex with his partner.

“He refused to answer and the tribunal said he therefore could not have refugee status because he was not a truthful or credible witness.”

Triggs said the decision was overturned by another court and that person was “extremely lucky”, but most people would be rejected by departmental officers in the preliminary stage of their visa application.

“Gay couples or LGBTI couples are so constrained presenting their evidence because they have spent most of their lives in the countries from which they come concealing their status,” she said.

“They’re not used to speaking to an officer they’ve never met before, presenting evidence they see as deeply personal and where they’re not from a culture where you would speak of these terms in ways that maybe Australians have become used to.”

According to Triggs, LGBTI Australians can help refugees and asylum seeks by persuading the government to change the law and ensuring all asylum seekers have access to legal advice and representation.

“Particularly, we need to be demanding the government exercise a proper process for determining LGBTI status, above all else,” she said.

“Denying people the right to claim refugee status and to present their case and present their evidence, strips away one of the most important aspects of their humanity and their status.

“They cannot tolerate the refusal to respect them as human beings and respect the validity of their claims as asylum seekers.”

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