Department of Health

Working with LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers

Key messages

  • LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers can face complex challenges arising from pre-arrival experiences of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in their country or culture of origin.
  • Some LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers may have faced violence, abuse or even life threatening situations, as sexual and gender diversity may be a crime in some countries.
  • LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers can feel socially isolated, disconnected and marginalised from their family, their community and the broader Australian community.
  • For some refugees and asylum seekers, their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status may have been a significant factor in their needing to flee their country while others disclose their identity during the refugee journey or after arrival in Australia.
  • Silence around sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status can make it difficult to ensure that LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers can access appropriate support.

In many societies people who are LGBTI are subject to serious human rights abuses because they do not conform to culturally established norms on sexuality or gender. As a result, LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers may have faced complex challenges arising from discrimination, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in their country or culture of origin. This may include experiences of sexual and physical violence, lack of police protection, arbitrary arrest, detention or extortion and exclusion from or interrupted access to services, especially in countries that criminalise same-sex relations. Social isolation and disconnection from family, community and other support mechanisms is also common.

Issues that apply to people from culturally and linguistically diverse refugees-and-asylum-seekers (CALD) backgrounds may also apply to refugees and asylum seekers, along with distinct pre and post-arrival factors, such as the ongoing impacts of experiences of torture and trauma or ongoing separation from family. Issues relating to LGBTI status will often emerge later in settlement, as other settlement stresses are prioritised.

Sometimes disclosure may occur long after settlement when visa status is resolved.

Refugees and asylum seekers who are LGBTI are often very private about their sexual orientation or gender identity due to social isolation, disconnection and stigmatisation by their community, their family or the broader Australian community, coupled with concerns that disclosure may impact their visa status. The stress of keeping their lives a secret can impact on mental and physical wellbeing, particularly when LGBTI status was the reason for leaving their home country. Regional and rural isolation may further limit access to face-to-face and online support services, which can compound the feeling of social isolation.

Silence around sexual orientation and gender identity can make it difficult to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers who are LGBTI can access appropriate support. Non-inclusive language on application forms can further add to the stress experienced by refugees and newly arrived people who are LGBTI. The use of interpreters from the same community can also lead to a reluctance to disclose sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status due to fears that the interpreter will not treat the information as confidential.

Responding to the needs of people who are LGBTI

Strategies to better respond to the needs of LGBTI people who are refugees or asylum seekers include:

  • Ensure staff have systematic, sensitive and holistic cross-cultural training, which includes input from LGBTI communities, to address issues of sexual orientation, gender and intersex status.
  • Apply inclusive practice principles and standards.
  • Establish clear referral pathways for LGBTI asylum seekers, refugees and newly arrived migrants, including secondary consultation through specialist refugee or LGBTI health and human services.
  • Share information confidentially between services providing for LGBTI asylum seekers, refugees and newly arrived migrants, and develop and shared practice tools for culturally appropriate, inclusive and sensitive assessment.
  • Promote online support services, especially to same-sex attracted, gender diverse and intersex young people and refugee and asylum seeker young people. 

References

Mann, R., Horsley, P., Saunders, M., Briggs, V. & Mitchell, A., 2006, Swimming upstream: Making places welcoming. A report on the needs of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in ‘hard to reach’ groups, Melbourne.

Noto, O., Leonard, W., & Mitchell, A.,2014, Nothing for them: Understanding the support needs of LGBT young people from refugee and newly arrived backgrounds, Melbourne: La Trobe University.

Poljski, C., 2011, Coming out, coming home or inviting people in? Supporting same-sex attracted women from immigrant and refugee communities, Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH).

Victorian Department of Health, 2014, Victorian Refugee and Asylum Seeker Health Action Plan 2014 – 2018, Melbourne: Victorian Department of Health. 

Mejia-Canales, D. and Leonard, W. (2016) Something for them: Meeting the support needs of same sex attracted and sex and gender diverse (SSASGD) young people who are recently arrived, refugees or asylum seekers. Monograph Series No. 107. GLHV@ARCSHS, La Trobe University: Melbourne. ISBN 9781921915925

Reviewed 09 September 2015

Health.vic

Contact details

International, interstate and mobile callers: +61 3 9096 9000

Diversity team Department of Health

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