Harriet Nakigudde, Aderonke Apata … African Lesbian Asylum Seekers

Harriet Nakigudde

The surveillance and security State has a new version of an old song: “Don’t talk of stars burning above. If you are queer, show me.” The newest subjects of this travesty are Harriet Nakigudde, a 30-year-old lesbian from Uganda, and Aderonke Apata, a 47-year-old lesbian from Nigeria. Both live in England, but the treatment they’re receiving could as easily be in the United States, anywhere in the European Union, South Africa, Australia or any other country that receives gay and lesbian asylum seekers on the condition that they `prove’ that they are not only homosexual but also exclusively homosexual. There are no multiple subject positionalities in the modern asylum process.

Given that African refugees and asylum seekers are already “the untouchables of our time,” African lesbian asylum seekers suffer a more intense and more layered, some would say intersectional, untouchability. Home Affair Offices, Border Agencies, Immigration and Custom Enforcement, whatever, all collude in a public policy that is producing a new identity, the Lesbian Asylum Seeker. And within that identity is the most denigrated, the African Lesbian Asylum Seeker.

Harriet Nakigudde was supposed to be sent back to Uganda today. Why? Because she failed to prove that she is sufficiently lesbian. Due to “administrative reasons”, her flight was cancelled. But Harriet Nakigudde is still on the hook, as of now. She still faces return to a family that persecuted and raped her, in order to “cure” her, and to a country that increasingly criminalizes all same-sex engagements.

Aderonke Apata has provided all sorts of evidence of her lesbian identity and of the dangers she personally faces if returned to Nigeria. Home Affairs wants more, and so Apata is providing a home video of herself and her partner: ““I feel so bad it’s got to this stage. It’s such a desperate and precarious situation to be in, very dangerous, because anything could happen to those pictures, those videos.”.

With one face, the State sings, “Show me” to the African Lesbian Asylum Seeker and, with the other face, decries the State homophobia of the backward African nations. It’s textbook sexual orientalism at work. Instead of virgin or whore, you now have victim or vixen, as long as they’re `African.’

At one level, this is old news. Critics, activists, scholars have long discussed the representational challenges of lesbian asylum claims. While policies may formally change, the staffs do not, and so in England, for example, there’s no special training to those who adjudicate asylum claims based on sexual identity. Asylum is asylum is asylum, and, under Fast-Track Detention, that means pretty much everyone is guilty until proven guiltier.

Lesbian asylum seekers, and refugees, are constructed as deportable before the fact. Their `identities’ are largely declared as undecipherable by the State. If the State can’t read the bar code of your sexual identity, you don’t get into the club. With that policy, the State produces its new extravagantly disposable subject, the African Lesbian Asylum Seeker, who must prove that she has not only been persecuted but has been raped, who must proved that she is not only lesbian, but is fully immersed in a lesbian life style, who must prove … that which really cannot be proven. “Show me, show me now.”

(Photo Credit: GayStarNews.com)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.