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Wednesday, July 07, 2010 

Hypocrisy never changes.

If there's one thing that history tells us, it's that hypocrisy never changes, it just ends up being applied to different people. I recently read Francis Wheen's wonderful biography of the lovable scoundrel Tom Driberg, the notoriously promiscuous first William Hickey, Labour MP and finally Baron Driberg of Bradwell. Not only were his fellow members of parliament fully aware of his homosexuality and voracious sexual appetite, not least because he regaled them endlessly with the tales of his experiences, whether they wanted to hear them or not, but he was also protected when he was accused of indecent assault, with his employer Beaverbrook paying for his legal representation and for the most past the rest of Fleet Street staying completely silent about the case. All this happened while homosexuality was illegal and other, less well connected individuals found themselves prosecuted simply for who they were. Some others were less lucky than the likes of Driberg, Alan Turing among them.

When David Laws was recently inadvertently outed by the Daily Telegraph, the surprise was not that he was gay, something known about at Westminster or at least suspected, but that he had felt unable to be open about his sexuality, even in these apparently enlightened and liberated times. It's easy to forget that it was only in the 80s that Chris Smith because the first MP to be openly gay, and indeed that even those who were completely open about their sexuality to those they knew, such as Driberg, still felt the need to wed, entering a loveless and unconsummated marriage for a reason known only to himself.

It was therefore always unconscionable that politicians would demand of anyone in this country that they should be "discreet" about their sexuality when they should have absolutely nothing to fear or be worried about by being openly gay. The law is more than clear: it's the problem of those that object, not the person themselves. Why then was it ever government policy that those claiming asylum on the grounds of facing persecution or worse in their home country because of their sexuality were declined refugee status because they should be fine as long as they were "discreet"? They were fully prepared to condemn the men who won their appeal today at the supreme court to a culture which in Iran goes far beyond anything in this country when homosexuality was still prohibited, while the situation is scarcely much better in Cameroon. The idea in any case that by being discreet you should be able to avoid the lash or death in Iran or five years imprisonment in Cameroon is itself morally bankrupt. Everyone in those countries is discreet, including most if not all of those prosecuted; it doesn't save those who are condemned to the authorities or who make even just one mistake of being open, as the appellant from Cameroon apparently did, caught kissing his partner. His account of what followed was not disputed:

In the case of HT it is agreed that, following an occasion when he was seen kissing his then (male) partner in the garden of his home, the appellant was attacked by a crowd of people when leaving church. They beat him with sticks and threw stones at him. They pulled off his clothes and tried to cut off his penis with a knife. He attempted to defend himself and was cut just above the penis and on his hand. He was threatened with being killed imminently on the ground that "you people cannot be changed". Police officers arrived and demanded to know what was going on and why the crowd were assaulting him. They were told it was because he was gay. One of the policemen said to the appellant "How can you go with another man?" and punched him on the mouth. The policemen then kicked him until he passed out. As a result of the injuries which he received he was kept in hospital for two months. After that, he was taken home by a member of his church who told him that he feared for his life and safety if he remained in Cameroon. This man made travel arrangements for HT who flew to the United Kingdom via another European country.

Beyond that, it was always ludicrous that these men could possibly have been returned to their home countries when they would have been almost immediately arrested by the authorities on arrival; the man from Iran certainly would have been. Similarly, it was also a betrayal of our own values: the asylum system is there precisely because of individuals being indiscreet, of demanding change in their societies who are no longer safe as a result of doing so, whether it be directly political or not. It can certainly be argued that sex can take the form of a political act, especially when it takes the form of rebellion against or rejection of the prevailing culture.

Of course, it's always difficult when it comes to policy on asylum to know whether the government really was being homophobic on purpose or "accidentally"; whether it was doing it simply because it thought no fuss would be made, and that it was another way to keep the figures, so ferociously complained about in the tabloids, as low as possible. Whichever it was, the end result was the same: hypocrisy which it would never have demanded of those born here. The case was really moot in any event as the coalition, as well as pledging to end the detention of children in immigration centres, had already said it would not be returning asylum seekers at risk of persecution because of their sexuality back to their home nation. That's a coalition in which the Conservatives are the major force, the party that David Laws would probably have joined had it not been for its support for Section 28, putting the Labour party, the architects of almost all the liberalising measures on homosexuality, to shame. Something really was and remains thoroughly rotten at New Labour's core.

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While agreeing with your condemnation I have to draw attention to the last line of your quote "flew to the United Kingdom via another European country". Why wasn't asylum applied for in that European country?

He was in fact not intending to claim asylum here either, according to the ruling. He was arrested at Gatwick trying to fly to Montreal on a false passport.

I'm not sure if that makes his case better or worse.

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