Sarah Cope (middle) with members of Queer Refugee Unite who will attend the Pride Parade in London to ‘affirm and celebrate’ LGBTQ+ asylum seekers (Sarah Cope/PA)
The chair of a refugee group who is fundraising for her members to attend a Pride parade said the march will be a “confidence-boosting experience” to “affirm and celebrate” asylum seekers of the LGBTQ+ community.
Sarah Cope, chair of Queer Refugees Unite, which is a support group for LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum in the UK, has set up a Go Fund Me to raise money to take 40 of its members to celebrate Pride at the London Pride Parade.
Ms Cope said the experience “can’t be overstated” as it will allow LGBTQ+ refugees to take part in the parade, particularly as many cannot afford to attend the event, and spoke of the significance of the trip.
“It’s just really important that they go to pride for a lot of reasons. One is that all of these people have had to keep who they are a secret all their lives up until this point,” the 45-year-old from Hertfordshire told the PA news agency.
“Asylum seekers get an absolute pittance from the government in terms of money they receive to live on so it’s not really enough for travel expenses.”
Queer Refugee Unite members will carry their own banners and t-shirts to London Pride Parade (Sarah Cope)
“We needed money for t-shirts and for people’s expenses, travel expenses, because they are based all over the UK.
To raise awareness of the countries where being part of the LGBTQ+ community is illegal, the group will attend the event wearing t-shirts designed by one of the members depicting the words Queer Refugees Unite written across a drawing of the globe.
Ms Cope said the image of the planet represents the members who “come the across the world from some of the countries where it’s still criminalised if you’re gay or trans”.
She hopes the march will highlight the need to support the “huge issue” of asylum seekers who are “routinely disbelieved by the Home Office” for being part of the LGBTQ+ community.
“The rights that we sometimes take for granted here, don’t apply to everyone across the world, and indeed in this country asylum seekers who are LGBTQ+ are routinely disbelieved by the Home Office, and detained and sometimes forcefully deported,” she said.
“That’s a huge, huge issue. It should be a huge LGBT issue – it’s not, but I think it should be.”
To be able to go and march and having spectators giving them that affirmation and celebrating who they are, it's just such a huge, huge experience. It can't be overstated
Sarah Cope, Queer Refugees Unite
She also wants the march to recognise the 70 countries where homosexuality is outlawed, particularly as some of her members are said to have had “awful traumatic experiences” for expressing their sexuality in their home country.
“This is the 51st year of the Pride march in London and we have secured so many rights along the way for LGBTQ+ people, there are countries in the world where if you are gay or trans, your life is at risk if you’re found out,” she said.
“All of these members have had awful traumatic experiences in their countries of origin, which is why they’re here in the UK.”
She hopes that attending the parade will be a confidence boost for Queer Refugees Unite members.
“To be able to go and march with 30,000 [people] and having spectators of up to one and a half to two million giving them that affirmation and celebrating who they are, it’s just such a huge, huge experience such a confidence-boosting experience. It can’t be overstated,” she said.
Thousands of people march in London’s Pride Parade, with more than a million spectators, which is a huge opportunity for LGBTQ+ refugees, says Sarah Cope (Matt Alexander/PA)PA Archive/PA Images - Matt Alexander
She added that the event will also help to “gain evidence” of their asylum claims.
“(Members) have to evidence their claims, in terms of they are out as gay or trans in this country. It’s a way that they can gain evidence as well, incidentally, for their asylum claims,” she explained.
Ms Cope said she was “moved” by people’s generosity and expressed her gratitude to those who have donated to the fundraiser.
“We couldn’t do it without the fundraiser, so that’s why we’re grateful to those who donated, she said.
“People have been really generous. We’ve been really moved by how much people have given and it’s just made all the difference.”