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“They like you to pretend to be something you are not”: an exploration of working with the intersections of gender, sexuality, ‘race’, religion and ‘refugeeness’, through the experience of Lesbian Immigration Support Group (LISG) members and volunteers

posted on 2023-06-09, 07:53 authored by Nina Held, Karen McCarthy
This chapter explores 'realizations of the activism of Intersectionality' by looking at the intersections of gender, sexuality, ‘race’, religion and ‘refugeeness’. We argue that bringing ‘refugeeness’ into intersectional analysis challenges the concept of intersectionality in particular ways. Drawing on examples of our voluntary work with the Lesbian Immigration Support Group (LISG), we discuss current issues faced by bisexual women and lesbians when they are seeking sanctuary in the UK. To win recognition as a refugee and therefore become 'documented' most members of LISG have to fight for recognition as a lesbian first. ‘Proving’ sexuality lies at the heart of the matter, with the majority of cases refused on credibility i.e. that the claimant is not believed to be a lesbian. In recent years, we have seen an increasing number of judgements where it has been argued that women ‘pretend’ to be lesbians. Claimants feel pressured to conform to Western, racialised homonormative notions of what lesbian sexuality looks like, having spent most of their lives ‘pretending' NOT to be lesbian, for their own safety. Thus, women find themselves in a 'politics of location' full of contradictions: excited to be able to express and explore their sexuality, but unrecognised by the UKVI and the courts as 'genuine' lesbians. Within the group of (mainly white European) volunteers we then face the big task of challenging these assumptions, whilst we might also have different understanding of what it means to be a 'genuine’ lesbian, depending on our lived experience of intersectionality. Together with members of LISG, we will explore our different experiences and understandings of sexuality and 'pretended' identities and show how Black feminist theory can be utilised to work productively through these tensions and contradictions and find ways of holding it all together.


Publication status

  • Published

File Version

  • Accepted version





Book title

Intersectionality in Social Work: Challenges to power, thought and practice

Place of publication





Routledge Advances in Social Work

Department affiliated with

  • Sociology and Criminology Publications

Research groups affiliated with

  • Centre for Gender Studies Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • No


Rachel Robbins, Suryia Nayak

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