Across the world people are forced to suffer because of their sexuality. Some get rejected by their families, or spat at in the street and abused because they are gay; some are beaten at the hands of their neighbours and the police; some are forced into violent marriages and prostitution, and some even risk imprisonment, torture or execution.
They do what any of us would do – try to escape. In a desperate bid for asylum, many make long, dangerous journeys across whole continents, eventually reaching the so-called safe nations of northern Europe who accept people who are homosexual. But the trouble doesn’t stop at border control.
“They’re frightened because it’s the officialdom in their own country that’s been mostly responsible for beating them up in the first place,“ explains playwright Tim Luscombe.
“They see a man in a suit and think, that’s the last person I’m going to tell I’m gay.
“Britain, like many countries, has got its act together when it comes to gay rights. They’ve passed good legislation, it’s fair. The trouble comes really when it comes to enforcing that through border officers,” Tim says.
“I submersed myself in this world and it’s shocking the things I was told.“
Tim’s new play Kimalia follows the fate of two asylum seekers, their journeys out of their homelands and the issues they encounter when they reach Europe.
He used real-life testimonies from the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group, a charity supporting LGBT people seeking asylum in Britain.
“One of the characters is up to speed with what her rights are,“ explains Tim. “The other knows absolutely nothing, he doesn’t even know he can claim asylum on grounds of his sexuality, all he knows is he wants to leave where he lives.
“It’s the case for a lot of people who come to Europe, they simply don’t know our rules and they face nylon-shirted, be-suited border guards who expect them to know.
“There’s often a real gulf of understanding between them. Often the refugees don’t have a word in their language for gay other than the hate-filled words used against them.
“Often they go to ground. They’re used to hiding, they’re used to living a hidden life. They try to hide from officialdom when it’s that they should be running towards.“
In the play the refugees are pitched against Vincent, a prejudiced border guard. It is both urgent and informative, and will question our own attitudes towards race, gender and asylum.
“It’s colour-blind, gender-blind, sexuality-blind casting,“ says Tim. “I’ve cast a blonde girl to play the child-like African Ade, the big lesbian campaigner for the refugees is played by a butch bloke.
“We’re challenging the audience to figure out their own prejudices.“
In his intensive research, Tim discovered huge communities of asylum seekers were denied entry but still awaiting appeal.
“There are these worlds within London you don’t know about“.
He hopes the play, performed by a cast of graduating students from Mountview Academy, might inspire others to find out more.
“I’m no political campaigner, I’m not a journalist, I can’t spread the word in more traditional ways, so when I have a cause I want to get out there I write a play about it and hope for the best.“
Kimalia is at Bernie Grant Arts Centre from February 5 to 9 at various times. The play contains explicit language and scenes that may shock and is unsuitable for audiences under 16. Details: 020 8365 5450