Speakers’ corner at the Global Refugee Forum

Speakers’ Corner at the Global Refugee Forum

Refugee Women Organising: Identifying protection needs, building solidarity, working towards solutions

Presented by Tina Dixson (refugee co-sponsor, PhD Candidate ANU) and Renee Dixson (PhD Candidate ANU)

[speech transcript] 

In many countries, for LGBTIQ people fear for their life is a daily experience. 30% of UN member states legally discriminate LGBTIQ people, in 11 countries death penalty is in place.

Violence against LGBTIQ people is committed by many actors including families. When we die, no one mourns. When we survive and get protection in other countries, it is for the first time that our lives are recognised as valuable. 

In our country of origin, Tina’s and I were under constant threat of violence and death even before we began working as human rights defenders. Once we became visible advocates for the rights of LGBTIQ people, we came to the point in life where violence could no longer be endured. In order to survive we had to flee. 

Unlike other refugees, LGBTIQ refugees cannot rely on the support from our ethnic communities due to prevalent homophobia and risks of further violence. Many refugee support services treat refugees as a homogenous group not addressing how age, gender and other diverse backgrounds impact on their protection needs. For many LGBTIQ refugees such a lack of support heightens their isolation, worsens their mental health and increases instances of suicidal thoughts. We have witnessed so many cases when LGBTIQ refugee women were placed in mixed gender housing and where other tenants chose to be homophobic towards them and to bully and abuse them. Without a response, this drives LGBTIQ people into homelessness and thus increases risks of SGBV. 

Seeing these systemic gaps in support of LGBTIQ refugees and being driven by our responsibility towards our community, we have founded a refugee-led project called Queer Sisterhood. It provides a space of community and belonging for LGBTIQ refugee women through peer support, mentoring and individual advocacy with a goal to improve wellbeing and assist with integration. Most recently we have produced a cartoon about what it means to be an LGBTIQ and refugee as well as a brochure with practical tips on inclusion of LGBTIQ refugees in your service provision. 

One of the biggest pieces of work has been the first conference in Australia on the issues of LGBTIQ forced displacement. We have brought together diverse stakeholders such as the government, service providers, policy makers, academics, advocates and LGBTIQ refugees to bridge the gaps between those stakeholders, enhance an understanding about the issues of LGBTIQ refugees experiences and build connections. 

For the first time LGBTIQ forced displacement was at the forefront of the conversation as these experiences are being silenced and intentionally erased including within refugee spaces. 

We have put LGBTIQ refugees at the centre of the discussion on challenges and solutions, fully supporting them financially to attend as well as giving them plenary sessions to lead the conversations. 

Having engaged in a dialogue between LGBTIQ refugees and other stakeholders we have produced a comprehensive picture of barriers to safety that persist. Among many, the most urgent are: 

  • Addressing intentional silencing and erasure of LGBTIQ refugees in particular queer and trans women;
  • A need for better policies on refugee determination based on gender identity, sexual orientation and sex characteristics;
  • Improved access to documentation including possibilities to change names and gender markers for trans people; 
  • Addressing ongoing discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence that is driven by homophobia and transphobia.

Engaging with the diverse stakeholders has also built a momentum for a collective action and solidarity with LGBTIQ refugees. This has manifested in the production of the Canberra Statement.  

Canberra Statement is a unique policy document. It outlines issues that need to be urgently fixed and sets a platform for action to ensure access to safety and justice for LGBTIQ refugees. We are calling on organisations and individuals to sign on to the statement showing their commitment. Up to date 56 organisations from 7 countries and 238 individuals signed on to the statement.  

The symbol of LGBTIQ community globally is a rainbow, a symbol of piece and serenity. In reality we are pushed to the margins. Our challenges and protection needs arise not from the fact that we have diverse sex characteristics, gender identity or sexual orientation. Instead they arise from structures and systems that choose to be homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and racist; that fail to ensure that we, LGBTIQ+ people deserve to live safe and free lives. 

Everybody counts, when words translate into actions. 

We leave you today with the following 4 actions that no matter who you are you can take for safety of LGBTIQ refugees.  

  1. Affirm Human Rights of LGBTIQ Persons
    LGBTIQ+ people have existed in all cultures and societies throughout history. All stakeholders need to recognise human rights of LGBTIQ people to life, safety, freedom and non-discrimination. 
  2. Ensure Safety
    Training must be provided to decision makers, support workers and interpreters on gender identity, sexual orientation and sex characteristics so LGBTIQ people are treated with dignity and respect. Safety also means access to mental health services, safe housing options and addressing sexual and gender-based violence.
  3. Provide Access to Documentation
    States need to allow for an easy access to documentation, in particular an ability to change names and gender markers. This is crucial for LGBTIQ refugees to secure employment and live their lives to the full potential.
  4. Age Gender and Diversity Disaggregated Data Collection 
    All stakeholders need to ensure that data is collected through an age, gender and diversity lens that is inclusive of sexual orientation. Safety must be a paramount consideration for the collection of such data. Such data also must be used to tailor services to LGBTIQ refugees and not just be collected. 

We have materials available with us for distribution. We have also made a pledge to offer our expertise in evolving policies on the determination of asylum claims based on gender identity, sexual orientation and sex characteristics. 

We want to work with all of you for a safer world. 

You can download the slides that accompanied the presentation here.