Photo Credit: Say It Loud Club / Kazi Rahman Photography
When we launched our Skate With Pride range, we wanted to contribute to the LGBTQ+ community, and we're thankful to the many members of the roller derby community who told us about a fantastic organisation, Say It Loud Club, that supports and advocates for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees.
Earlier this month, we spoke to Holly Dawson, Communications Manager, about Say It Loud Club, to find out more about their work, and why they need your support.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Holly, can you tell us how Say It Loud Club started?
It's actually an incredible story! Say It Loud Club was originally started as an LGBTQ+ rights group in Uganda by our Director, Aloysius Ssali, back when he was a student in 1994. Uganda is one of over 70 countries where same-sex relationships are illegal and widely socially condemned - often a legacy of laws originally brought in by British colonisers. So it wasn't long before Aloysius' activism had made him a target in Uganda and he decided to come to the UK to study in safety. When he returned to Uganda after 2 years away, he was recognised, arrested, and tortured by the police for a week until he managed to get away. He fled back to the UK with 6 months left on his UK visa, and stayed.
This was back in 2005, 5 years before it was possible to apply for asylum on the grounds of sexuality in the UK. Aloysius sofa-surfed between friends' houses, sometimes sleeping on the streets, unable to work, go to the GP, or get help from anywhere due to not having papers. It was on the bus one day in 2010 - the 29 from Wood Green to Trafalgar Square - that he saw the story in a Metro newspaper about two gay men who had just won a case at the Supreme Court to be able to remain in the UK as the country's first LGBTQ+ refugees. Days later, Aloysius was on the phone to the Home Office, beginning his journey towards being granted refugee status.
I always wish that this part could be the happy ending, but unfortunately - as is the case for almost everyone at Say It Loud Club - Aloysius' journey through the asylum system and integration into life in the UK was long and gruelling. That's why, shortly after being granted refugee status in October 2010, he restarted Say It Loud Club again. This time, as a support system for LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in the UK
What does Say It Loud Club do?
We're the community of LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, so our main priority is supporting our members with everything and anything that's needed! To be honest it's quicker to ask what we don't do... We have 1-to-1 and group counselling and mentoring sessions for our members, which are spaces where people become able to accept, embrace, and express themselves openly for the first time. Our aim is to be community-driven, so we're largely led by LGBTQ+ refugees supporting other LGBTQ+ refugees. Peer support is an important aspect of Say It Loud Club's work, and I think that's why people feel comfortable to open up and grow in confidence once they join us.
We also help out with practical support wherever it's needed - helping people access legal services, financial support, and healthcare. Many people come to us with mental health difficulties after years of trauma and concealing their identities, and we have partnerships with some amazing, specialist, counselling and therapy services. We started a really exciting housing project last year, working with housing associations to source permanent, safe, LGBTQ+ friendly housing for members once they're granted refugee status. We sadly have to help a lot of people with emergency housing support too, if they're street homeless or at risk of eviction. Housing is incredibly unstable for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and most of our members are homeless.
What are the issues specifically facing LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers?
Applying for asylum on the grounds of sexuality is a gruelling process, one which is widely recognised as being grossly unfair. If someone asked you to prove your sexuality or gender identity, how would you do it? It's impossible! And there's very little understanding of the fact that people have had to actively conceal their identities and relationships for years, meaning there's often little to no proof of these. In recent years, the Home Office has been accused of relying on an insulting and highly Westernised stereotype of queerness to decide whether or not someone is telling the truth about their identity.
The double discrimination received by both a member of the LGBTQ+ community and being a refugee or asylum seeker can be incredibly isolating. The vast majority of our members have been rejected by their families and communities due to their sexuality or gender identity prior to fleeing to the UK. When people arrive in the UK, they are once again marginalised and excluded because they are refugees. LGBTQ+ refugees in the UK often experience homo- and transphobia from other migrants from the same countries as them - a huge issue in refugee housing where people are likely to share rooms with others from the same country. Many are left feeling like they have no community to turn to. Though some LGBTQ+ individuals and organisations go above and beyond to welcome refugees and asylum seekers, it can be difficult for LGBTQ+ refugees to feel integrated into the UK's LGBTQ+ community due to issues such as racism within the community, or financial, cultural, and linguistic barriers to accessing activities and services. That's part of the reason that it's so amazing when groups like yours want to work with us and learn more about LGBTQ+ refugees!
Photo Credit: Say It Loud Club / Simon Tang Photography
How has COVID affected the work of Say It Loud Club?
It's been a tough few years! We very quickly moved all of our work online - meetings, appointments, social events, workshops. We were running online events for our members every single day through lockdown, just so that people were able to stay connected and support each other. Many of our members are living in really challenging home environments; in government housing that is cramped with high risk of infection, or with friends and family who they haven't 'come out' to. Our online events were so necessary to provide some respite. Of course, everything moving online had its challenges, too. Lots of LGBTQ+ refugees don't have access to tech like laptops and smartphones, data or WiFi. Our amazing supporters have been donating laptops and phones that we can give out, and we've helped people to pay for data so they can access events, appointments, and their interviews and tribunals (which also moved online). We're so glad to be able to start having face-to-face events again now - everyone is overjoyed to be back together!
If people want to support your work, what can they do?
Donate! Fundraise! It sounds basic but we are a tiny organisation supporting lots of people, and any donations that people can give make an enormous difference to the work that we're able to do. Unlike larger charities where it can be hard to tell where your money ends up, all of our donations go directly to a project supporting members. We love hearing people's fundraising ideas so definitely get in touch with us if you'd like to raise some money and we'll offer any support we can. We're also mostly an organisation of volunteers and are always on the lookout for people to join our team! Get in touch and tell us what you're interested in.
We're on the lookout for an office space in London at the moment so that we can hold appointments for members in a more private, reassuring space. Let us know if you know of anywhere!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Holly!
To find out more about Say It Loud Club, to make a donation or offer your support, you can visit the Say It Loud Club web site here and join them on their social platforms - Instagram, Facebook and Twitter You can shop Skate With Pride range in our web store here where 10% of the sale price goes directly to Say It Loud Club.
Photo Credit: Say It Loud Club / Kazi Rahman Photography