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This London Store Is Selling Just 1 Powerful T-Shirt

Why Global Citizens Should Care
One of the UN’s Global Goals addresses the need for reduced inequalities, across sexuality, gender, and all statuses. In Britain, we’re free to love who we love. But people in other countries aren’t so lucky. Pride is an opportunity to celebrate, but also to raise awareness of the work that still needs to be done. You can join us by taking action to push for equality around the world here.

A pop-up shop has set up in London’s Covent Garden but, in a slight twist, there’s just one design for sale. 

It’s a white t-shirt, with rainbow lettering spelling out the words “Choose Love” — and it’s all in support of LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers.

The campaign comes ahead of London’s Pride march, which is expected to draw around 1 million people to the capital on Saturday. In fact, if you head to the store on before they’re offering complimentary multi-colour makeovers. 

Take action: Share This Video to Promote LGBT+ Diversity in Workplaces Around the World

The t-shirts are a collaboration between Help Refugees, Pride in London, and the Say It Loud Club, which was launched by Aloysius Sali in support of LGBTQ+ refugees.

Sali founded the club while at college in Uganda, where it’s illegal to be gay, in 1994. Its initial aim was to support gay rights and, to lessen the risk against themselves, its members had to keep the club’s existence a secret. 

But by 2000, Sali and his organisation were well known enough to have become a target, according to Help Refugees. Some members were arrested while others, like Sali, fled. He came to the UK, where he completed a university degree before returning to Uganda again in 2004. 

This time, he was captured and tortured because of his sexuality. But he still had six months left on his student visa, according to Help Refugees’ website, so he returned to the UK. 

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At that point, however, the UK didn't formally recognise sexuality as a reason for claiming refugee status, so Sali had no legal right to stay in the country. He lived in Britain without papers for five years, fearing to return to Uganda because of the violent discrimination that he’d already experienced there. 

Eventually, in 2010, Britain’s Supreme Court accepted the right of gay refugees to seek asylum, if their sexuality meant they would be persecuted in their home countries.

In the same year, Sali sought and was granted the right to claim refugee status. And in 2011, he founded the Say It Loud Club in the UK, this time with the aim of supporting LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers given the “huge lack of support” he himself had experienced. 

“For years, he ran Say It Loud out of his own pocket, working as a nurse to support himself and the growing Say It Loud community,” said Help Refugees. “In 2018, with the support of Help Refugees, Aloysius is now working full-time to help LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers.” 

Read more: Britain's Royal Marines Will March in London's Pride for the First Time

It’s currently illegal to be gay in 72 countries around the world, and in eight countries those convicted can face the death penalty. 

The illegality of being gay in Uganda is a tragic remnant of British colonial rule, but the persecution of LGBTQ+ people in Uganda has become increasingly severe since 2014. The Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law in December 2013, despite uproar from the international community, and being gay can now lead you facing life imprisonment. 

Given the UK’s decision to recognise sexuality as a reason for claiming asylum, a number of people fearing persecution seek safety in Britain. Nevertheless, according to Sali, it was “incredibly difficult” to claim asylum for being gay. 

“It still is now,” he added. “Seeing the overwhelming lack of services for LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers, I knew I had to do something to help people.” 

Read more: This YouTuber Shows How to Say Different Sexualities in British Sign Language

But Sali isn’t alone in struggling with the UK’s system for LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in applying for refuge. Activists and campaigners have largely spoken about the system of detention centres. 

There are 10 Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) around the UK, with two in London, according to the New Statesman

A report published by Stonewall in 2016 found that, “while there is no doubt the UK asylum system has improved for LGBT people [since the previous report in 2011], there is still a long way to go.” 

The organisation said the report’s findings “are extremely distressing, exposing unacceptable treatment of LGBT people, with detention centre staff ill-equipped to provide them with a safe refugee.”

“Some participants were too afraid to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity while in detention,” it said. “Those who were open either faced isolation or abuse from other detainees. They also felt staff did little to protect LGBT detainees. Some said they even faced direct discrimination from guards.” 

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It concluded: “What this report clearly demonstrates is that detention, in its current form, is not safe for LGBT asylum seekers.” 

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and each claim is carefully considered based on its individual merits.”

“We have worked closely with organisations and charities, including Stonewall, the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, and the UN high commissioner for refugees [UNHCR] to improve our guidance and training for asylum caseworkers.” 

  • The Choose Love x Pride store is at St Martin’s Courtyard in Covent Garden, and is open until Saturday, July 7. You can also find the t-shirts, and other “Choose Love” merchandise in support of refugees, online here