There are many reasons why individuals want to come and stay in Australia. Australia is a great country where one’s civil rights are guaranteed and protected. We have come a long way to accept and embrace sexual and gender diversity. We have the freedom to debate issues relating to gender and sexuality. We have the liberty to access information, and we are afforded the opportunity to fight for our rights.

The same however cannot be said for many LGBTIQs around the world. In some countries, homosexuality (or homosexual acts) is still illegal. Religious dogma has been used to discriminate and persecute sexual and gender diverse individuals. Homosexuality and transgenderism are often seen as sinful, deviant and immoral thus justifying ongoing stigma, discrimination and persecution. We have heard stories from some countries where gay men and lesbians are publicly persecuted to instil fear amongst the local LGBTIQs. We also heard that some governments are attempting to further criminalise LGBTIQs.

It is no wonder therefore that some individuals are applying for a refugee status on the basis of being a sexual or gender minority. Australia is seen as a free country where they can finally express their sexuality without fear of persecution, or prosecution. The promise of freedom, the ability to be themselves, as well as enjoying legal and civil protection is most enticing and desirable. Things that we often take for granted, such as the ability to publicly express our sexuality, are a luxury for many refugees.

Years of oppression and fear of prosecution undeniably have a damaging effect on the health and well being of these individuals. Long migration processes, uncertainty of one’s refugee status, as well as the possibility of living in an off-shore or on-shore detention centre can further add to the stress. It is common to hear refugees and asylum seekers suffering from mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. For some of them, disclosing their sexuality is foreign and unthinkable, making it difficult to articulate their sexual and gender identity. In addition to this, lacking knowledge on sexual health and limited ability to communicate and practice safe-sex can put them at risk of HIV and STI transmission.

All of the aforementioned issues indicate the importance of supporting sexual and gender refugees. Places such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) provide a welcoming environment, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender. The Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre is committed to working with organisations such as ASRC promoting the health and well being of sexual and gender refugees.

As we enjoy our rights and the privilege to be ourselves, it is worth supporting those whose lives are in danger simply for who they are.

INFO: To find out more what you can do, go to www.asrc.org.au

By: BUDI SUDARTO, Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre

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