Constructing a queer haven
Author: Thibaut Raboin

Discourses on LGBT asylum in the UK analyses fifteen years of debate, activism and media narrative and examines the way asylum is conceptualized at the crossroads of nationhood, post colonialism and sexual citizenship, reshaping in the process forms of sexual belongings to the nation.

Asylum has become a foremost site for the formulation and critique of LGBT human rights. This book intervenes in the ongoing discussion of homonationalism, sheds new light on the limitations of queer liberalism as a political strategy, and questions the prevailing modes of solidarity with queer migrants in the UK.

This book employs the methods of Discourse Analysis to study a large corpus encompassing media narratives, policy documents, debates with activists and NGOs, and also counter discourses emerging from art practice. The study of these discourses illuminates the construction of the social problem of LGBT asylum. Doing so, it shows how our understanding of asylum is firmly rooted in the individual stories of migration that are circulated in the media. The book also critiques the exclusionary management of cases by the state, especially in the way the state manufactures the authenticity of queer refugees. Finally, it investigates the affective economy of asylum, assessing critically the role of sympathy and challenging the happy goals of queer liberalism.

This book will be essential for researchers and students specializing in refugee studies and queer studies.

Abstract only
Thibaut Raboin

The introduction succinctly describes the process of claiming asylum in the UK. It then offers a streamlined explanation of the methodology: the corpus, the tools of critical and French discourse analysis used, and the notion of the social problem. The central concepts of the manuscript’s argument are critically defined (queerness, sexual citizenship, nationhood, hospitality), in order to ask a series of questions about asylum, such as: how does it produce subjectivities, not only for asylum seekers, but also for British liberal queers? How do asylum debates hinge on the relationship in contemporary public discourse of queerness with normativity and liberalism?

in Discourses on LGBT asylum in the UK
Thibaut Raboin

This chapter considers the narrativisation of seventeen asylum cases in British newspapers between 2003 and 2014 in around 150 press articles, a BBC Two documentary, documentation produced by NGOs and some international legal documents. The chapter unpacks three aspects that are crucial for the problematisation of asylum: firstly, the way narratives produce a specific temporality allowing for the exposition of happier futures in the UK, and the expression of colonial imaginaries. Secondly, the importance of LGBT human rights in the way the social problem is perceived, and consequently, can be solved. Finally, the way LGBT asylum cases serve to powerfully stage the position of the British state and its liberal subjects in an LGBT-positive state: they are a site for the negotiation of what it means to uphold sexual rights.

in Discourses on LGBT asylum in the UK
Thibaut Raboin

Looking at how the UK is imagined as a queer haven, this chapter contends that homonationalist discourses need victims to actualise their narrative opposing barbarism abroad to modernity at home. It also means that LGBT asylum becomes an important strategic space for social actors to invest in, as it allows for the deployment of axiological discourses using sexual modernity as a criterion: political credit can be won by claiming to save those queers that are persecuted in their home countries. Finally and most importantly, considering that homonationalist discourse works on the assumption that queerness and race are fragmented, where one is the enemy of the other, and where queer migrants and queers of colour are either exceptions or victims, the chapter concludes by looking at how homonationalism has become a regime of justification for public action, and is used strategically by advocacy groups to call the state to account.

in Discourses on LGBT asylum in the UK
Thibaut Raboin

This chapter is dedicated to the analysis of the state management of refugees. It looks at credibility as a central part of the biopolitics of LGBT asylum, and argues that as a mode of veridiction, credibility is based on a series of sexual ontologies, affects and modes of projection that (re)produce as ‛true’ certain forms of liberal queerness. It suggests that the recognition apparatus not only has the function of excluding (or not) claimants, but also of strengthening the hegemony of liberal queerness as a universal way of being queer in the world. Looking at the debates and criticisms around credibility, the chapter then shows how (1) the assessment of credibility involves a neoliberal discipline of self-presentation that assumes autonomy and self-governance on the part of asylum seekers. It also examines how (2) in the debates around how to best recognise truthful claimants, the state and its critics are engaged in a collective work of gradual improvement of the biopolitical machinery of asylum.

in Discourses on LGBT asylum in the UK
Thibaut Raboin

This chapter argues that the production of queer liberalism is central to the affective politics of LGBT asylum: discourses on suffering and sympathy are central in the self-representation of queer liberals as sexual citizens with a claim to the state; and discourses on potential happiness are catalysts in the representation of refugees as an exhortation of happiness, and a cruel optimism. This analysis shows how the homonationalist configuration of public discourses is hinged upon representation of queer happiness (as an objective) and sympathy (as an affective relational mode).This chapter distinguishes between two affective modes of identification for liberal queers: the first is through the politics of sympathy and the potential identification of liberal queers with refugees; and the second works through a reconfiguration of discourses on sexual citizenship, nationhood and the appropriation by liberal queers of the wound of being queer embodied by refugees.

in Discourses on LGBT asylum in the UK
Thibaut Raboin

This chapter starts by concentrating on the question of optimism and shows that asylum is based on a cruel optimism that cannot but fail in its promise of happiness. Optimism in LGBT asylum is a combination of discourses on neoliberalism, sexuality and rights-based aspirations which imagines futures for asylum seekers and simultaneously closes them off to render them unachievable. The chapter shows how the impossibility of reaching these happy futures turns asylum into a site for the contestation by advocates and asylum seekers themselves not only of asylum policies, but also of certain forms of queer liberalism. Such critiques are examined in detail in a second part, which analyses three art projects and performances that give rise to dissident voices and new imaginings of how asylum seekers and liberal queers can be engaged collectively in sexual politics in the UK. Challenging the cruel optimism of asylum, the analysis proposes to liberal queers to engage with LGBT asylum by looking at how their experiences differ in relation to migration, access to markets and mobility.

in Discourses on LGBT asylum in the UK
Abstract only
Thibaut Raboin

The afterword reflects on the book’s findings and asks: what are the changes in the structure of public discourses about LGBT asylum in the UK that could empower asylum seekers, allow for a greater fairness in decision-making, and decolonise queer hospitality? It identifies several issues in public discourses, starting with a queer/race fragmentation which makes it harder for the voices that do not articulate their politics using the dominant liberal or universalist modes to be heard and disseminated in public arenas. A second suggestion is that freer testimonial practices should be fostered so that asylum-seekers can re-appropriate the hermeneutical function of self-narration in order to start a process of self-crafting that eschews homonationalist narrative. Finally, opening up public arenas to the complex and often challenging stories told in queer refugee performance could also enable the emergence of political propositions that are anti-racist, anti-homo and transphobic and attentive to the particular challenges of migrant experiences at the nexus of political and administrative subjection, ethno-racial, gendered and sexualised violence.

in Discourses on LGBT asylum in the UK