Michelle: Full Interview
Interview by Ray Larman
26th March 2019
INTERVIEWER: This is Ray Larman, recording for West Yorkshire Queer Stories on the 26th of March 2019, and I’m here with Michelle, who is going to introduce herself.
M: Hello, my name is Michelle, I’m from Eritrea and I grew up in Ethiopia.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, what’s your date of birth Michelle?
INTERVIEWER: And how do you identify?
M: I’m lesbian.
INTERVIEWER: So, can you tell me a little bit about growing up in Ethiopia?
M: Growing up in Ethiopia is very hard, because I’m half Eritrean, and because of the war, Ethiopian people, they never accepted me. And they used to call me, like, racist things, like [amiche?] and they used to beat me, yeah. And there wasn’t – I don’t have a good memory of that country, and I wasn’t welcome in no one’s like kid’s birthday or anything. And my mum, she was like everyone is [unclear] her because of, because she had me with Eritrean man. And it was so hard.
INTERVIEWER: So, when did you come to the UK?
M: I came here in 27 August 2015.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, so why did you come to this country?
M: I came – I came for my safety, but I didn’t know I was coming here, in this country. I came with an agent that my uncle – my uncle finished everything for me, basically.
INTERVIEWER: But you didn’t know you were coming here?
M: No, I didn’t know.
INTERVIEWER: So, where did you think you were going to?
M: I don’t know, a place, a safety place.
INTERVIEWER: So, why did you need to go to a place of safety?
M: Because the police in Ethiopia they discover that I am lesbian, and I was running away because they want to put me in prison. And I went to Sudan, where my uncle is, and my uncle he talk with an agent and then I came in this country. But I didn’t know in this country you can be – it’s free to be a lesbian, whatever you want, basically. And I didn’t say nothing, even in the airport because I was scared, and I didn’t know what to do.
INTERVIEWER: So, did you come by yourself?
M: Yeah, I came with the agent until the end, but after that I didn’t see him.
INTERVIEWER: Did you know anyone here when you arrived?
INTERVIEWER: So, what was that like?
M: Horrible. And, I didn’t know what to say, and the police officer, she was coming to me, I was crying; I don’t know any one word of English, and was like… I was scared.
INTERVIEWER: So, where did you end up going? Did you arrive in London?
M: I think so, yeah, because they took me to a hostel, but I don’t remember the hostel name, and I stayed there like a week.
INTERVIEWER: So, how did you end up coming to Leeds?
M: I ended up coming to Leeds, and after they took me to Bradf- er, Birmingham hostel, and then they gave me a house in Halifax. And the Home Office, they didn’t believe my sexuality because I didn’t say nothing in the beginning. Because of that, they took me out of the house, and now I’m living in a friend’s house in Leeds.
INTERVIEWER: Right, so you don’t have a house of your own?
M: I don’t have any support; I don’t have any house, nothing.
INTERVIEWER: So, why didn’t you say anything when you arrived, were you scared?
M: Because I never thought like in a European country you can be lesbian; I never thought anywhere you – the way you grow in Ethiopia, is closed mentality. You don’t think like something like that could be possible to, you can’t, I can’t be open about it because – until last year I wasn’t open about it because I was scared, I was not used to it. But – I tried to accept myself first, and then I tried to be open, and now I feel more like – I feel more open about it and then I feel more, like, I feel more confident.
INTERVIEWER: So, are you applying for asylum?
M: Yeah, I’m trying to do my first claim, yeah, I’m try.
INTERVIEWER: So, what do you need to provide for the Home Office, how do you convince them of your – that you need to be here to be safe?
M: That’s the thing that I didn’t understand, because you don’t need to show them like – it’s liking saying to people, ‘show me you’re a lesbian’, or show me – how can you say that, because if I’m telling you to believe it. It’s not because I’m not in a relationship or I’m in relationship, that doesn’t mean nothing. I don’t know how I’m gonna show it but – it’s hard; it’s hard. It looks like safety place, but at the same time it’s makes you miserable.
INTERVIEWER: So, going back to when you were in Ethiopia – so were you having to hide your sexuality when you were there?
M: Yeah. You want me to talk about it?
INTERVIEWER: If you want to.
M: In Ethiopia, yeah. Like I know it like since, I was different since I was born, I know at first that I was, I was scared and I was confused because in Ethiopia you don’t see this kind of things. It’s very religion country. And as soon I get like 14, 13 years old, all my friends, they was like playing, the girls they was like looking at boys; for me it wasn’t like that, I didn’t – I didn’t really, I wasn’t really interested to that. And then after, when I must have been 17, 16 I start like looking girls in a different way, and then, then I understood was something going on on me, inside me, and I couldn’t accept it because it’s taboo there and I never saw someone else like, be like that, and for religion, the Christianity religion, for them, it’s just like you are a devil and… and I start, I start like, I start to kill my feelings, to kill out – I wanted to kill my feelings. Then I went with a guy, but after that I hated myself… and it was painful, like wasn’t good idea, because you can’t – you can’t really kill who really you are.
INTERVIEWER: Did your family know?
M: No. My cousin, he knows, he’s in Ethiopia, but him as well, they don’t talk to me, he doesn’t talk to me. He’s the one taking me, like making me run away to Sudan because he knows like how I’ll be in prison for 25 years and they will rape me as well because they thinks, ‘oh you never tried man, because of that you are, you want with woman’, they think like that, their mentality. And y’know, because my mum passed away, she told him to keep eye on me, like so that’s why he saved me.
INTERVIEWER: How did anyone kind of find out, if you were keeping things secret?
M: Basically, I was in a relationship when I was 18 years old. I met this girl – her name is Magda – and she was very nice and kind person, and we were like, one time she went to… some place in, she stayed like for a month or something, and she came back and it was like missing each other. I was like in a car, parked, in a night-time, and then we was kissing and two police officers, they saw us, but they started like saying to us, ‘oh you kissed each other’, but we said, ‘no’, and they left us that day. But the other day, I think after that they started following us, I don’t know. We were in the hotel – they found us in a hotel, and me actually, I had my clothes in the toilet, so and I get in, I lock the door and I ran away from the window. And as soon as I saw a taxi I took the taxi and ran away to my house, but I heard they took her. I dunno where she is, and no one is telling me about her. It’s horrible, I feel, sometimes I feel like I’m not loyal to her because I ran away, but in that moment I was too scared, because – she got more experience than me, her, she was like my first time. And she knows the rules, how it is in Ethiopia, like how you can’t have these kind of things, like you can’t be lesbian and you can’t – if they catch you, it’s bad thing, that’s why as soon as I saw the police I start shaking and then I ran away.
INTERVIEWER: So you went to Sudan after that?
M: Yeah, I went to Sudan.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. So, how long have you been in Leeds now?
M: In Leeds – at least a year.
INTERVIEWER: So how has it been, living here?
M: Hard. Hard. I was thinking like the government should protect me or something but, all they did is like making my life miserable and asking for help to other people for where to live. It look like you don’t have a life, you are in prison. That’s it.
INTERVIEWER: Is it useful coming to African Rainbow Family? [Charity that supports LGBITQ+ BAME refugees]
M: Yeah, because you see more people like you, and then it’s more like… everyone they got their situation, and it makes you feel like you are lucky sometimes, because someone, they don’t even have a friend where to stay, and that point I can see myself I’m lucky. But, some of the time, it’s hard. Because I was young when I came here, I was 19, and I needed help and… nothing.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you. Do you want to say anything else?