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Letter From Zimbabwe

Letter from Zimbabwe

Moud Goba is a project manager at Micro Rainbow International. Originally from Zimbabwe, she helps fellow LGBT refugees find safe shelter in the U.K. This is her story, as told to Kay Cairns.

As an ambitious young lesbian I knew there was no way I would be able to live openly in Zimbabwe. When my family discovered my sexuality, they took me to church and tried to "exorcise my demons and bad spirits." Forced to conform, I tried to hide who I was and live a heteronormative life, living with secrets and shame, for fear of abuse, harassment, and persecution.

It was because of this uncertainty that I left my country. Our president, Robert Mugabe, calls us worse than pigs and dogs, and it's illegal to be LGBT. I got a student visa to live in the United Kingdom as soon as I could, and when that ran out I knew I'd have to find a way to stay.

I remember walking up to the Home Office in London with such hope--ready to tell my story, be listened to, and get protection. My experience couldn't have been further from that. I remember the Home Office asking me again and again if I was sure I was a lesbian. I was 17 weeks pregnant--something the officer seemed to think was impossible for a lesbian. I knew from that moment it was going to be a hard road to asylum.

Others I work with have been targeted for corrective rape in their home countries, attacked by mobs for having been found with a same-sex partner, or tricked into visiting family only to be beaten, locked up, and forced into an arranged marriage. Many women also lose custody of their children upon discovery of their sexuality. Families or their husbands forbid them to see or talk to their children. The horror doesn't end once you're in the United Kingdom. Many have regular nightmares of the abuse they've endured. And living as an asylum seeker is incredibly difficult. We get PS37 (about $46) a week and can't work, so we live in poverty. The stigma is also difficult to bear. I told only my close friends that I was an asylum seeker, because I was ashamed. I used my time to volunteer for a number of organizations and set up my own--Gay Afrika--to help me find others like me living in the U.K.

Finding accommodation is another massive issue. The Home Office often places LGBT refugees with others whose religion and culture are intolerant to their existence. A friend was recently attacked in a hostel after his roommate found out he was gay. He threatened to beat my friend up and told him he was going to hell. He had his phone stolen and the rest of his possessions thrown out of the room. He didn't report the attack out of concern that it might adversely impact his claim. Another woman, from Bangladesh, was forced to leave her host family in the U.K. after they found out she was LGBT. She was an asylum seeker with no recourse to public funds and wasn't allowed to work. She resorted to seeking shelter in an abandoned warehouse--taking multiple buses in several different directions at night to stay safe.

The asylum-seeking process takes a long time. My claim took two years. That was two years of living in poverty and proving my sexuality--with support letters from people who knew me, ex-partners, and various organizations I'd volunteered with. I was pretty lucky, being an activist, and having had girlfriends, that I had a lot of "proof."

To other LGBT people seeking asylum, I say, don't suffer alone. Seek out help from the likes of Micro Rainbow International and the U.K. Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group who will help you find a solicitor and support from other asylum seekers and refugees. Please remember, there is no shame in seeking safety and wanting to preserve your life.

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