We’ve asked civil servants to blog about why it’s important to #beyourself this Pride. Warren Hallett works for the Home Office. He writes about his experiences of seeking asylum in the UK, and how the Home Office gave him his life back.
I joined the Home Office in 2003. At the interview, I was asked about the motivations for applying. “Because the Home Office gave me my life back, and I can now be myself without fear of being persecuted.” I replied. “I want to give something back to the UK for giving me my life back.”
In 1993, I was a 3rd year student at Edinburgh University – fully funded by the government of my birth country. I was an ‘A’ grade student; one of thirty who had won a prestigious scholarship to study in the UK.
One evening, I met a fellow country man in a bar. Up to that point I thought I was the only gay man from my birth country studying in Edinburgh. Feeling excited, I naively told him everything about me. Unbeknown to me, he was married – as homosexuality is illegal back home, it is not uncommon for gay men to lead a double life to avoid the Authority’s attention.
Worse still, unbeknown to me, he outed me by sending a damning letter to the grant-awarding department (that paid my scholarship) and to my parents.
This was the point when everything in my life was turned upside down. My scholarship got terminated because ‘the government does not fund LGBT students’; I got kicked out of university; my parents disowned me; my boyfriend left me because he could not cope with me being depressed. I’d never felt so alone.
After being left penniless for three months, I received a letter from the government of my birth country summoning me to go home and stand trial – for being gay – for being myself. I tore the letter up and went into hiding. A close friend advised me to claim asylum. I did.
Between then and 2000 when I got granted refugee status – and British citizenship shortly after – my life was like one big roller coaster ride. I often refer to it as the ‘dark period’. I was deeply ashamed of my immigration status. I often pretended I was someone else. Introducing yourself as an asylum seeker to a date or someone you fancy at a gay bar is just not a cool thing to do!
Throughout my career at the Home Office, I’ve never had to hide my sexuality. Colleagues and line managers have been incredibly supportive and welcoming – and I’ve often been described as a positive happy person. By being myself and out at work, I feel that I’m able to help strengthen diversity awareness among colleagues and form honest relationships with them.
Whilst I am happy to be open about my sexuality at work, I’ve never really shared my experiences as a refugee with colleagues… until a few months ago. I agreed for playwright Clare Summerskill to turn the ‘dark period’ of my life into a play. It’s called ‘Rights of Passage’. Aside from raising awareness of LGBT and asylum issues, my hope is that the play would let others going through the same experience realise they’re not alone. I invited colleagues to the play in May this year. It was like ‘coming out’ for the second time!
I most certainly have come a long way. Sometimes I have to stop and pinch myself. I no longer feel ashamed and embarrassed, or sorry for myself. These feelings have been replaced with immense pride. My utmost gratitude goes to the Home Office and the UK for not only giving back my life, they also gave me the chance to live with dignity, hope and respect.