20th May 2019


No more hiding of homosexuality

  • The EU court in Luxembourg: sexuality is an integral part of people's identity (Photo: ILGA-Europe)

The EU Court of Justice delivered on 7 November a judgment clarifying various aspects of EU asylum law in its application to claims by gay asylum seekers from countries where homosexuality is criminalised.

The media mostly focused on the fact that the court confirmed that people persecuted in their home countries because of their sexual orientation form a “particular social group” in the sense of the Geneva convention and of EU law.

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They also noted that the court considered that only when sanctions against homosexuals are applied can a country be considered to be persecuting them.

Another significant but related aspect of the judgment was left unnoticed.

This aspect concerns one of the most bizarre practices by asylum authorities in some EU countries: they simply tell gay and lesbian asylum seekers to hide, tone down, be discreet or completely secret about their homosexuality to avoid persecution.

Therefore, such applicants see their asylum claims dismissed and are often returned to their countries of origin.

The court now made it clear that lesbian and gay asylum seekers who are escaping their home countries because of fear of persecution based on their sexual orientation cannot be expected to “conceal [their] homosexuality in [their] country of origin or exercise restraint in expressing it."

This is consistent with a full and correct interpretation of the concept of “particular social group,” which according to EU law characterises persons sharing a “characteristic that is so fundamental to [their] identity … that [they] should not be forced to renounce it," as recalled by the court.

There are still 76 countries in the world where adult individuals risk criminal sanctions for consensual same-sex sexual acts and five countries where such acts are punished by death.

Hopefully, this judgement will end a completely unreasonable and degrading practice in some EU countries where lesbian and gay asylum seekers are told to tone down their homosexuality, be discreet, and therefore "safe" back in their home countries.

The writers are activists in ILGA-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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