Izzy was desperate to stay in Australia. But first, she had to prove her sexuality

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun6,2024
“My best friend said, ‘No — you just don’t do that. You are meant to be with a man’,” Izzy recalls.
As a bisexual woman born into a conservative Muslim country that criminalises homosexuality, Izzy (not her real name) faced potential persecution and was forced to hide her sexuality.
“If the neighbours found out [that I am bisexual], they’ll report it to [a government] department and they could come and arrest you and then send you to counselling — and then you get fined.”
Izzy was 14 when she discovered she “liked boys and girls”, but was told by her best friend at the time that she would have to reject who she was, due to her religion.

“I had to suppress my bisexuality and just dated guys. I did have a relationship with a girl, but it was mostly secret.”

She fled to Australia in 2016, and on arrival saw the country as a beacon of freedom.
Izzy said she could face serious trouble for displaying basic forms of affection that Australians can take for granted.
“My entire life I had to suppress my bisexuality until I came to Australia,” she said.

But to stay in the country for her safety, she would have to prove her sexuality.

How do you prove you’re queer?

After Izzy arrived in Australia, she applied for a protection visa under “membership of a particular social group”.
To be granted a protection visa, an applicant must first be classified as a refugee needing protection, according to the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

The DHA states one must have a “well rounded fear of persecution and there is a real chance they will be persecuted in their home country now, if they were to return”.

Graphic art detailing information about the Department of Home Affairs' reasons for a well-founded fear of persecution

“Well founded fear of prosecution”, according to The Department of Home Affairs, 2024. Source: SBS

Despite a supportive father who allowed her to question her faith, everything else around Izzy, including her own country and its religious values, opposed her sexual orientation.

“We don’t have a choice to choose our religion as we grow up. It’s like if you were born into a Muslim family, that’s your religion – your entire life,” she said.

Izzy said her school and religious teachers taught her: “you can’t question Allah”.

Gretel Emerson is a solicitor at the Sydney-based Refugee Advice and Casework Service, which provides support and legal advice for migrants.
They said proving that clients identify as LGBTIQ+ is “one of the hardest parts” of the application process.
“Comparing it to a religious claim – you can provide a baptism certificate, photos of you at church, evidence of an identity card that states your religion,” Emerson explained.

“But when someone’s trying to explain to the department what their queer identity is, that’s all personal and internal.

There’s no membership card. There’s no ability to point to them attending queer clubs if they’re from a country where that was completely outlawed.

Refugee Advice and Casework Service solicitor Gretel Emerson

Emerson said the DHA must be satisfied that someone is seeking protection on the basis of their membership to a particular social group, which comes down mostly to personal testimony.

“It takes a lot of courage for a client to talk to a department officer and try and explain when they first started to realise they were queer, what that meant for them for the first couple of years of their life, and then how they were able to – or not able – to start exploring that queerness in their country of origin,” Emerson said.

Two people hugging, wrapped in a rainbow flag on a cliffside looking over an ocean

There are many countries around the world that criminalise LGBTIQ+ people. Source: Getty / Yamil Lage/AFP

But in a country where being openly bisexual can lead to persecution, Emerson said providing that proof can be difficult.

“If someone has spent the first 20 years of their life in a country where they cannot explore that queerness because they could be arrested or killed, it’s a big ask to then expect them to come to Australia and immediately embrace the queer community here and feel safe and comfortable to them express their sexuality.”

A woman with long curly brown hair wearing a dark jacket and white t-shirt standing outside smiling

Refugee Advice and Casework Service solicitor Gretel Emerson provides support and legal advice for LGBTQIQ+ migrants. Source: Supplied / Damon Amb

Plus, personal testimonies can be up for interpretation.

“It comes to a point where they have to explain whether they have had any engagement in the queer community in Australia. But if they haven’t, they have to try and convince the department that it’s not because they’re lying about their sexuality, it’s because they don’t feel comfortable to do that yet,” Emerson said.
They must also prove to the government that they unable to be protected by their own state and provide a written statement and attend an interview.
Earlier this month, to be released from immigration detention. He had argued he would be persecuted in his country due to his sexuality.

The government had been seeking to deport him since 2018 after his application for a protection visa was rejected.

The persecution may not end there for queer migrants

Matthew Vaughan, HIV director for the LGBTIQ+ health organisation ACON, said in a statement to The Feed that queer people migrating from a country where their sexuality is persecuted may face barriers in Australia.

“We know that these communities can find it difficult to feel that they can be themselves in Australia or welcome in wider LGBTIQ+ community groups,” Vaughan said.

A man smiling with glasses and a black blazer and white shirt

ACON HIV and Sexual Health Division director Matthew Vaughan. Source: Supplied / ACON

He said queer migrants may also experience racism due to their ethnic background, which may impact their ability to feel accepted in Australia.

“There is often a tension to balance the intolerance towards their identity in their home countries with a desire to maintain and honour their culture, religion, and family or societal traditions.”

Being in Australia allowed Izzy to overcome trauma

With the help of support services within Australia, Izzy was recently granted a permanent protection visa — under conditions that include engagement with protection obligations and meeting all other visa requirements including security, health, and character checks.

Her bridging visa had allowed her to stay in the country throughout this process.

Seeing queer people in Sydney holding hands publicly, Izzy said she felt a sense of trust and safety — far from what she had been used to.

“I wouldn’t be able to walk down the road holding hands with my girlfriend.”

An LGBTQI+ flag with children raising their hands in joy

In 2017, Australia legalised same-sex marriage. Source: Supplied

It was only until Izzy got into Australia and felt “safe”, did she recognise how her trauma had accumulated and she began therapy for PTSD.

“I started having flashbacks and memories of things that happened to me in my country,” she said.

“My therapist told me because of the people and where I was made me feel safe, and this chemical in your brain that tells you: okay, this is a safe place.”
In contrast, Izzy said that the very idea of seeking therapy was stigmatised in her country.
“I couldn’t [get help] where I was from, because we grew up thinking seeing a therapist means you need to go to a mental hospital.”
As Izzy starts her new life without facing persecution, she considers a life without boundaries: or as she puts it: “I can do whatever I want [in Australia] — I can be with whoever I want.”

“I get to be myself, leave my past behind, and live my life the way I want to. Australia was a place for me to heal.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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