‘Nobody imagines what it’s like to be an LGBT asylum seeker’: GenPol in Conversation with Carmn Ferrara

  • February 7th, 2020
  • Blog

GenPol is back in conversation for the new decade, and this week we were lucky enough to interview Crmn Ferrara. Carmn is an LGBTQI+ activist, whom GenPol were lucky enough to work with in Southern Italy in the latter part of 2019. They have just published a book on the intersecting forms of oppression faced by LGBTQI migrants in Italy (which our CEO, Lilia Giugni, presented at a local book launch late last year).

Carmn’s book is available to purchase on Amazon, here.

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Can you tell our readers a little about your background and what lead to you publish your book?

I have been a human and civil rights activist since I was 17, now I’m 25, I wrote my bachelor‘s dissertation on LGBT+ asylum seekers while I was following a course on Mediterranean Geopolitics.

My identity as an activist is closely linked to my aptitude for research. What led me to publish my book was the need to inform Italians on a topic they know little about. This will has grown more and more by working with immigrants. Research on the topic has increased in recent years, but when I started looking for bibliography in 2016, very little had been published in Italy. The methodological approach I apply in my book is a secondary data analysis, based on ILGA World indicators. Although I haven’t spent any time on rescue boats, I volunteer alongside migrants.

 What particular challenges do you think LGBT+ migrants face coming in to Italy, and are there any common obstacles they face upon arrival?

To understand the difficulties facing LGBT+ migrants when they arrive in Europe, it is essential to know what it means to be LGBT+ in their country of origin. The request for international protection is presented at the border police office when they arrive or at the competent police headquarters based on the applicant’s home. In my research I am not talking about migrants, but about asylum seekers who arrive in Italy through the Mediterranean sea (its an important distinction to make).

Often in their home countries, being homosexual is punished in some way: fines, imprisonment or even the death penalty. Sometimes, even if there is no law that actively criminalises homosexual behaviours, it is still customary to persecute LGBT+ people. One common challenge is the difficulty in declaring sexual orientation and / or their gender identity (particularly if in their cultures it is generally not practical to speak openly about sexuality). People do not realise that you need to have an entire conversation with the body responsible for the recognition of refugee status (territorial commissions first followed by court in the event of a negative response). Applicants are forced to answer questions on details of their intimate and private and life

Films like Fuocammare and the work of the Open Arms Association have drawn public  and media attention to migration in to Italy , but these are only snapshots of a much more complex pattern. What is one thing you wish members of the public knew more about LBTQI migration , or one preconception you could dispel?

The work of Open Arms, of the Sea Watch and documentaries as Fuocammare shed light on the dramatic situation of people who challenge the desert and the sea to reach our country. The geographical position of Italy, together with Malta, has seen many deaths a few miles from our coasts . Yet, the mass media broadcast these images of migrants without showing them as individuals, but as clusters. Obviously each one of them has a story. The reality is that if you are an immigrant that is your only identity. Nobody thinks that you can have passions or that you can have a sexual orientation that is anything other than straight. Nobody thinks that you might not be a cisgender, or that you don’t want to sell lighters at the traffic lights. But what, if, for example you have ambitions, desires and dreams that go beyond that? Whilst I do not want to romanticise or sentimentalise the narrative, we have to challenge the lazy one that is being thrown around by the Italian media that “all migrants pretend to be gay to get international protection”. Nobody imagines what it’s like to be an LGBT asylum seeker.

By that, I mean they do not understand the layers of discrimination that a person has to live when he/she/them is LGBT in an immigrant community. When you arrive in a country that it should be safe and face stereotypes and bureaucracy- when find yourself in a community where the majority don’t speak your language and maybe have a very different way of expressing their sexuality and/or gender identity-it can be incredibly challenging.  As activists and researchers we have a responsibility to listen to these stories is to protect the integrity of the people we work with, and give scientific dignity to these invisible issues.

Can you recommended any organisations our readers with Italian connections can donate to/ support?

In Italy there are some LGBT organisations work with LGBTIQ asylum seekers. Arcigay is one of them and Migra-Antinoo is the desk I coordinated. I am in a group of linguistic and cultural mediators, lawyers, psychologist to support LGBTIQ asylum seekers during the claiming of asylum.

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