Pride or Profit: the plight of queer refugees

Pride month marketing is prevalent across various brands and companies, and for the most part, it provides meaningless support to LGBTQ+ movements by appropriating existential struggles (Moniuszko 2021). June, also known as Pride month, signifies a continuous space of resistance and celebration of queer identities. It is founded on political activism in response to the long durée persecution faced by LGBTQ+ communities. Pride is represented by a variety of political, cultural, and personal expressions, but the rainbow flag is the most widely recognised (Wurzburger 2021). Major retailers such as Adidas, Nike and H&M selling ‘Pride clothing’ manufacture these items in countries where homosexuality is illegal, however, in the face of hypocrisy they continue to show ‘support’ through PR ‘efforts’ (Clayton 2018). Despite the fact that this is a significant time for commemoration and solidarity, today's look at LGBTQ+ movements is dominated by corporatized and performative solidarity. Branded with ingenuity, Pride is used as a tool of profit for neoliberal establishments through trends of rainbow corporate logos and merchandise.

But what is most unsettling is the rebranding of the UK Home Office’s – the country's leading department for immigration – logo on Twitter for Pride month. Every year, it is estimated that 1,500 people seek asylum in the UK for reasons related to sexuality and criminalisation of same-sex acts in one’s country of origin (Brewer 2020). Between 2016 and 2018, 1,197 LGBTQ+ Pakistanis were denied asylum after filing a claim with the Home Office for protection based on their sexual orientation. As a result, the Home Office's claims of support for LGBT+ communities remain just that: claims. Theories of migration tend to be based on the assumption that migrants are heterosexual, which excludes the existence of queer migrants from citizenship debates (Luibhéid 2008). In the United Kingdom, it has become clear that queer migrants must prove their ‘gayness' in order to meet the demands of ‘rightful' asylum claims (Beetar, 2020; Brewer 2020). This contributes to the dangers of stereotyping queer identities in relation to heteronormative standards. As a result, the experience of queer migrants is a contentious one, with hostile deportation policies threatening one's existence violently. In this context, the presence of queer migrants, combined with the Home Office's performative acts of solidarity, can be interpreted as a collaborative effort to make refugee spaces mobilising while also immobilising (DeJesus 2011).

Perhaps taking a closer look at the relationship between nation-state borders and heteronormativity can better explain the disconnect between immigration policies and proactively supporting queer migrants. The relationship between borders and citizenship can be understood as one of continual displacement. Borders are viewed as paradoxical in queer citizenship theories given that LGBTQ+ people are “policed within state borders at the same moment they claim protection within those borders” (Bruce-Jones 2021, p. 49). Citizenship is constantly being reconstructed in heteronormative ways by posing a physical barrier to inclusion/exclusion. This is because the traditional construction of the citizen conforms to the ‘male as head of house’ and displays particular entitlements with regards to access to welfare and housing (Johnson 2002). For individuals who identify outside of traditional gendered sexualities, their access to citizenship entitlements is restricted. It is most evident through the requirement to prove and categorise one's sexual orientation in processes of citizenships that scrutinize any identification outside of heterosexuality. How does one prove one’s sexual orientation? This acts as a barrier to the fluidity with which sexuality can be expressed. Strictly examining migrant bodies through normative sexual conventions reaffirms the dangers of othering (Hodge et al 2019).

The ambivalence in the actions of the Home Office can be understood through the concept of ‘pinkwashing’ which has become a populist trend across political regimes. It is frequently discussed in relation to Israel's LGBTQ+ friendly policies, which fabricate laws as progressive and all-inclusive' while remaining ignorant of Israeli colonial practises that violate Palestinian people's rights (Ritchie 2015). As such, pinkwashing can be understood as a political strategy to deceive individuals and groups through the status of queer communities. Thus, the overemphasis on progressive 'acts' during Pride month needs to be reconsidered in light of tangible practises and realities. The queer ethnic migrant remaining subject to deportation stands at odds with the home office’s rebranding.

Borders impose sexual and racial hierarchies on the queer migrant, persecuting an intersection of identity factors such as, but not limited to, sexuality, race, and class. For instance, there is an interesting contrast between the realities of queer spaces in ‘gay tourism' and queer migration. Soho in London and Manchester's Gay Village have become internationally known destinations for visible queer consumption (Binnie and Skeggs 2004; Sanders-McDonagh and Peyrefitte 2018). The contradiction exists in how homophobic criticisms are blind to the local invisibilities of queer migrants who face an alternate reality. Despite the similarities in cross-border movements between gay tourism and queer migration, capitalism's logic creates internal divisions among marginalised groups by asking "who can use, consume, and be consumed in gay space?" (Binnie and Skeggs 2004, p. 39).

Pinkwashing fuels unjust political agendas and neoliberal market strategies. According to McNevin (2011), policing citizenship is linked to a neoliberal political trajectory. The long history of immigration policies and the privatisation of detention centres in the United Kingdom has turned migrants into political subjects of profit. Seven out of nine Immigration Removal Centres in the UK are outsourced to private companies and have a net worth of £243 million a year (Brons 2018). These financial stakes in immigration systems create profitable incentives for deportation. As a result, immigration policies exist outside of ethical practices and serve as a profit-making source that jeopardises livelihoods.

For queer migrants, their fight for citizenship in the United Kingdom is rooted in their persecuted sexual identities, which generate revenue for the Home Office. In this context, Pride Month serves as a performative tool of 'solidarity' with no tangible meaning for the realities of queer migrants. As a result, the Home Office's marketing of Pride is actually harmful to the realities of queer migrants. Simply put, while queer migrants are deported at the expense of their safety, a heteronormative institution rebranding Pride remains ironic and meaningless.


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