London Metropolitan University Research Institutes

ISET Seminar Series Spring 2012

ISET European Interdisciplinary Seminar Series

Spring 2012

Queering Migrations: orientations, rights and sexualities in motion


Friday 24 February 2012, 2-6pm, T1-20, Tower Building

The ISET seminar series addresses key issues in the making and remaking of Europe, whether economic, political, social or cultural. In the context of globalization, these extend beyond Europe's borders, and interrogate definitions of European identity.

The queer deconstruction of heteronormativity is a strategic tool to study the nexus between migration, gender and sexuality.  Its intersectional focus on gender, sexuality and materiality potentially allows a better understanding of the social mobilities, identities and divisions underpinning migration.
During this half day workshop we will explore the theoretical and methodological potential offered by queer analyses of the nexus between migration and sexual orientations.  We will also discuss the complex entanglement of rights and identities characterising the experience of people claiming asylum on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity in the UK.
This workshop will bring together a unique combination of scholars and practitioners addressing these issues from a variety of academic disciplines and fields in the UK












Panel 1: Queer mobilities, methodologies and intersections

Jon Binnie, Manchester Metropolitan University
Like a Bomb in the Gasoline Station’: East-West Migration and Transnational Activism around Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Politics in Poland – co-authored with Chris Klesse
Leticia Sabsay, The Open University
'Queering Nationalisms? The politics of 'queer' as a migrant signifier'
Nick Mai, ISET, London Metropolitan University
The fractal queerness of non-heteronormative migrant sex workers in the UK sex industry

Panel 2: Framing non-heteronormative migration and asylum in the UK

Calogero Giametta, ISET, London Metropolitan University
The making of Knowable and Liberated Subjectivities in Queer Asylum Cases in the UK
S.Chelvan, Barrister, No 5 Chambers and King’s College London
Analysing homo and hetero normativities in the narratives of lesbian and gay asylum seekers in the United Kingdom
Erin Power, UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group-UKLGIG
Translating Queer Migration Histories into LGBTI Asylum Cases

The Seminar will take place in the
Old Staff Café, T1-20,
Tower Building,
London Metropolitan University,
166-220 Holloway Road,
London N7 8DB

Jon Binnie is Reader in Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests focus on the geographies of sexualities in the urban and transnational context. He is the author of The Globalization of Sexuality (Sage, 2004), The Sexual Citizen: Queer Politics and Beyond (with David Bell; Polity, 2000) and Pleasure Zones: Bodies, Cities, Spaces (with David Bell, Ruth Holliday, Robyn Longhurst and Robin Peace; Syracuse University Press, 2001). He is also the editor of Cosmopolitan Urbanism (with Julian Holloway, Steve Millington and Craig Young; Routledge, 2006) and is currently completing a monograph on transnational activism and sexual politics in Central and Eastern Europe with Christian Klesse for Manchester University Press.
This paper examines the relationship between East-West migration in Europe and activism around LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) politics in Poland. EU accession in 2004 was accompanied by an intensification of homophobia in Polish political discourse particularly associated with neo-populist Radical Right parties such as Law and Justice and the League of Polish Families. Marches for tolerance and equality (of lesbians and gay men, and other sexual dissidents) were banned or attacked by Far Right counter-protestors in a number of Polish cities. This paper focuses on the connections between East-West (and other) migrant flows to and from Poland and the emergence of transnational activist networks forged in response to these events. These migratory flows facilitated the forging of these networks and activist solidarities, generating material and affective support. The discussion of these issues draws on interviews with activists participating in these networks. Our argument shows that there is concern among activists about how to represent the post-accession East-West migration of lesbian and gay Poles and the extent to which this is due to homophobic oppression in Poland. Moreover we find that there is considerable investment in the potential for East-West migration to transform the attitudes of socially-conservative Polish citizens


S. Chelvan:  Barrister, No5 Chambers - ‘ a doyen of immigration cases involving issues of sexual identity’ (Chambers UK 2012).  Practitioner at the forefront of ground-breaking cases concerning LGBTI asylum in the UK, PhD Candidate in Law (KCL) and consultant to ILGA-Europe, UNHCR, UKBA, STONEWALL as well as lecturing and training nationally and internationally (UK country expert Fleeing Homophobia project, invited Keynote Speaker on LGBTI asylum at IASFM-13 – Uganda (July 2011) and speaker on LGBTI asylum in Europe to the LIBE Committee, European Parliament (October 2011).

In previous work on the narratives of those seeking asylum on the basis of sexual or gender identity, I have argued that four common themes emerge: ‘difference’, ‘stigma’, ‘shame’ and ‘harm’. This paper concentrates on the first of these four core triggers and argues that to fully understand persecution and consequent refugee status in claims of lesbian and gay asylum seekers,  ‘difference’ needs to be understood as the rejection of hetero-normative indicators. Whilst the Courts in the United Kingdom have engaged with this model in cases concerning lesbian asylum seekers, it has not been applied to cases involving marginalised men. In 2010, the UK Supreme Court issued the landmark decision that asylum seekers should be granted refugee status if they are unable to return to countries of origin without being forced to conceal their sexual identity due to a well-founded fear of persecution. An understanding of ‘difference’, however, allows us to identify a remaining lacuna in the form of those who are discrete only for family or social reasons, so would not fulfil Supreme Court’s guidelines, but are still at risk as they do not conform to the heterosexual narrative.


Calogero Giametta
Calogero Giametta is a Ph.D. candidate within the Institute for the Study of European Transformations at London Metropolitan University. He was a recipient of the 2010 LMU Vice-Chancellor scholarship. Since 2010 he has been conducting his research fieldwork on individuals who claim asylum in the UK because of fear of persecution in their countries of origin due to their sexual orientation and, or gender identity. From the outset of his academic career Calogero has been interested in developing a critical analysis of the nexus between sexuality and migratory processes. Important areas of his research interests and writings include: the formation of homonormative discourses within western LGBT politics, the instrumentalisation of sexual minorities that reinforces the divide between ‘queers of the West’ and ‘queers of the Global South’, queers and Islam and the emergence of sexual citizenship discourses within liberal democracies.

This paper examines the problematic use of universal narratives of liberation, victimhood and lack of agency that appears to be common both within academic and humanitarian discourses on asylum. The analysis will unfold from a reading of disparate migratory experiences of sexuality-based asylum claimants when confronted with British jurisprudence and the receiving society. In doing so, I will specifically focus on queer asylum cases in the British context. The findings presented are based on interviews with fifteen individuals who have claimed asylum on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity in the UK. The aim of the paper is twofold; it seeks to question the linearity of the narrative of ‘liberation’ that is often used to define the queer refugee’s journey and at the same time it critically looks at the production of victimhood and hopelessness operated by dominant legal discourse in the asylum process. The in-depth interviews will be used here to shed light on the modes in which this migrant population variably inhabits the norms and the discourses which define them, and above all how they exceed these universalising narratives. On the one hand the question that I pose is where do sexual minority asylum seekers situate themselves within discourses of liberation and victimhood? On the other, I will be asking; when and under which circumstances do they take themselves out of those?


Nick Mai
Nick Mai is Reader in Migration Studies at ISET, the Institute for the Study of European Transformations of London Metropolitan University. Since the late 1990s Nick researched the mobility of minors and young migrants from Eastern Europe (Albania, Romania) and North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia) into and within the EU, their strategies of survival and the associated risks and opportunities, including issues of exploitation and the engagement in illegal activities. His current research focuses specifically on the global sex industry as a space within which migrants (and non migrants) both challenge and reproduce established intersections between social mobility, gender and sexuality

Contemporary debates on migration and the sex industry have been characterized by a marked emphasis on the extent of trafficking and exploitation of migrant women in heterosexist contexts and relationships.  Migrant sex workers' complex understandings of exploitation and
advantage have been reductively manipulated into a heteronormative dichotomy between free (male) migrants and (female) coerced victims. In the process, non-heteronormative migrant sex workers' experiences of advantage and exploitation were neglected. This article draws on original
research material and findings about the specific life and work trajectories of non-heteronormative people working in the UK sex industry. It will focus on the way they understand the opportunities and predicaments posed by the homonormative and heteronormative worlds they ambivalently reproduce and challenge by migrating and working in the global sex industry.


Erin Power is the Executive Director of UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group (UKLGIG) and has worked for the group for over 11 years.  UKLGIG is the only national organisation dedicated to assisting those claiming asylum in the UK on sexual or gender identity grounds by providing assistance in preparing an asylum claim, referral to expert immigration solicitors and social support whilst going through the asylum process.
UKLGIG also trains lawyers, immigration judges, LGBTI organisations and refugee support organisations and works with politicians and the Home Office to improve policy and practice when deciding LGBTI asylum claims.  UKLGIG works internationally, encouraging the UK government to influence decision‑makers in other countries, building links with and supporting LGBTI groups in those countries and maintaining strong relationships with international human rights organisations.
UKLGIG is a small organisation with only 3 staff but in the last year has supported close to 1,000 LGBTI asylum seekers.
Erin will speak about identity, in the context of LGBTI people from around the world claiming asylum in the UK, including what identity the asylum system imposes on them and the innovative work UKLGIG is doing in relation to identity.


Leticia Sabsay
Research Associate, Department of Politics & International Relations, The Open University

Leticia Sabsay is a Research Associate at the ERC Oecumene Project, Department of Politics & International Relations, The Open University. She is member of the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance, The Open University; and member of the Gino Germani Research Institute of Social Sciences, University of Buenos Aires (Argentina), where she was Assistant Professor of Communications before she migrated to Europe. Her research falls into three broad areas: critical social theory, queer and feminist theory and cultural studies. She has extensively studied Judith Butler's work and her current research interrogates the liberal ontologies of the individual and the neo-liberal trends for normalizing gender and sexual diversity within the new sexual democratic turn. She has three authored books: Dilemmas of Antiessentialism in Contemporary Feminist Theory, The Norms of Desire. Sexual Imaginary and Communications, and Sexual Borders. Urban Space, Bodies and Citizenship, all published in Spanish.

Being politically queer meant at the beginning of the 1990s to counter both the entanglement between heteronormativity and nationalism and the policing of identity. More recently, queer activism and scholarship have mostly focused on contesting the emergence of a homonormative form of nationalism as well as the hegemonic homonormative ideas that reign within institutionalised liberal LGBTI politics, which live in complicity with homonationalist ideals. Yet to say that one would only be queer as long as one embarks in this political project might be an overstatement. In many contexts, queer has become increasingly identitarian and even a sign of nationalism itself. In this paper I look at the shifting meanings of the ‘queer’ signifier and discuss some of the current tensions concerning what it means to be politically queer as well as which political compromises queers should make.  Since the signifier ‘queer’ has spread in many different directions, politically, culturally and geographically, I argue that these issues will necessary continue to be open matters of discussion, negotiation, and cultural translations, while pointing to key alliances against both universalist and nationalist queer positions.


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