A field day for the right-wing press

By Symon Hill
July 11, 2010

As the old joke goes, the way to confuse Daily Mail readers is to tell them that asylum-seekers are the natural enemies of homosexuals. This wouldn't have worked last week, when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of two gay asylum-seekers, giving the right-wing media the opportunity to go into full scaremongering mode, firing off prejudiced comments about two groups handily combined into one.

“Now asylum if you're gay” roared the front page headline in the Daily Express, as if asylum had been guaranteed to all gay people – which, of course, it has not.

The Supreme Court has ruled that people fleeing homophobic persecution should not simply be sent back and told to hide their sexuality. This has previously been common practice.

Helped along by an extremely ill-chosen comment by one of the judges, the papers were able to quote his words with no context and promote homophobic stereotypes about gay people going to Kylie concerts and drinking cocktails.

Anti-immigrant prejudice was also in full swing, with the Daily Star publishing an editorial headed “No room for gays”. It claimed that “millions more people” will now be able to claim asylum and get “a cushy life in Britain” (it doesn't explain what's so cushy about living in a country in which the media daily encourage your neighbours to fear and hate you).

The Daily Mail enthusiastically quoted Andrew Green, the scaremongering chairman of Migration Watch, who said, “This could lead to a potentially massive explosion of asylum claims as it could apply to literally millions of people around the world”.

His claim is as inaccurate as it is irresponsible. Recent analysis showed that 98 per cent of people fleeing homophobic persecution are refused asylum in the UK, compared to 77 per cent of asylum-seekers generally. Even if the number of successful gay asylum-seekers increases several times over, it would still be pretty small.

Also, as Paul Canning writes on the website of LGBT Asylum News, there have not been floods of LGBT asylum-seekers to Canada, despite its far more welcoming policy.

In an attempt to whip up even more fear, there have been claims that Britain will now be flooded not only with gay asylum-seekers but with people “claiming they're gay” (to use the Daily Star's words). The implication is that sexuality can't be proved, so anyone could claim to be gay or bisexual.

But nor can religion be proved. Anyone fleeing an oppressive Islamic regime could claim to be Christian and at risk of religious persecution. The possibility of making such a claim untruthfully hasn't caused a flood of asylum-seekers from such countries.

The homophobia implicit in the reporting reveals that – despite how far we've come – we still have a very long way to go to achieve a general recognition of the rights of sexual minorities. The xenophobia with which it has been combined is characteristic of the tendency of certain papers to blame Britain's problems on the most vulnerable groups in society. Anyone would think that the economic crisis had been caused not by bankers and millionaires but by a sinister coalition of asylum-seekers, benefit claimants, gay people and Muslims.

The last year has seen growing support for democratic reform and changes to political systems so that powerful people are held to account. We need to recognise that the press is one of the most powerful institutions in our society. With parts of the press consistently using their power to attack the most vulnerable, we need to ask how that power can be challenged and changed. Freedom of speech means little when some have freedom to be heard and others do not.

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