Same-sex attracted asylum seekers’ experience of detention in Australia

Colleagues and I at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne are planning a research project to interview same-sex attracted asylum seekers now living in civil society in Australia. We intend to interview a small number of men and women about their experience of being held in detention centres in Australia when their refugee status was being determined. There are three strands to our proposed research. The first strand is the human rights context of detaining asylum seekers in prison. The second is the mental health consequences of doing so, and the third strand concerns the layers of oppression that we suspect same-sex attracted asylum seekers might experience in prison.

Our hunch is that same-sex asylum seekers would experience multiple ‘outsider’ identities when imprisoned in detention centres in Australia. These could include their being refugees, their non-Anglo ethnicity, their non-English speaking background, and finally being same-sex attracted. We hope that by interviewing refugees who have made the transition to civil society we can gain some insight into the effect sexual difference had on their experience in prison and then in the wider Australian society once they received refugee status.

While there has been quite a lot of media coverage in Australia and overseas of same-sex attracted asylum seekers making refugee claims on the basis of fears of oppression in their home country, our intention is not to follow this line of inquiry. We are more interested in how they managed their same-sex attracted identity while in prison in detention centres in Australia and then possibly how well they have been able to integrate into civil society and gay/lesbian cultures in Australia. At present, we are seeking external funding source, so if any readers in Australia have a good fund source they can recommend, we would be grateful to hear from you.

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About Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson is a lecturer in sociology at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. His first book, The Changing World of Gay Men (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) examines the lives of three generations of Australian men, aged 20–79. In 2010, it won The Australian Sociological Association’s inaugural Raewyn Connell prize. His research interests include ageing, sexuality, social justice, and the world of work. In 2013, Palgrave Macmillan published his second book, Gay Men’s Relationships Across the Life Course, which analyses the life stories of 97 gay men from nine international cities—Auckland, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Manchester, Melbourne, Mumbai, New York, and Sydney.

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