LGBT & Immigration 1993...

I’m a Programme Manager in the Vodafone Group Technology Enterprise Product & Solutions S IoT team delivering the SmartSIM programme of projects enabling the transformation of eUICC (embedded integrated circuit card) SIMs over the air for remote provisioning and greater flexibility of IoT connectivity. I’m also Chair of the UK LGBT Network, supporting Vodafone LGBT+ and Allies in retail stores, contact centres and offices across the UK.

When I started my career there were no rights for LGBT+ people in school, at work, no housing, pension, partnership or immigration rights.  That’s all changed completely in the UK and yet prior to 3 years ago there were no brightly coloured rainbow flags or any sign of LGBT+ at Vodafone. Wanting to change this I came out as a lesbian and with the help of a group of energetic and passionate people we were awarded #1 LGBT+ Employee Network in the UK. 

I met my first serious girlfriend at the East Coast Lesbian music festival in Pennsylvania in Summer 1991. Think a woman only version of Glastonbury. Kyle was a 6ft 3” American, drove her Chevy Nova with her knees, windows rolled down, A/C on full blast and proceeded to sweep me off my feet. She was also an anglophile so when I was offered a transfer to Southampton, she wanted to move to the UK, far more than me, a transplanted Brit who’d moved to suburban upstate New York at 16. I’d found my tribe in the US, I wasn’t so sure if it even existed in the UK.

It was 1993, there were no rights for gay partners moving countries, anywhere, worldwide. There weren’t employment rights or housing rights either so there was no point in even discussing it with my employer. The only option was the façade of a marriage of convenience with its associated risks, think Green Card with Gerard Depardieu.

So, Kyle and I moved lock, stock and barrel to the UK. I was soon running the European customer support team. We worked by fax & post in those days. Setting up a 1200 baud modem triggering the first emails and ftp transfer of software patches across the Atlantic was game changing! We bought a house, got a dog, met friends and adapted to life in the UK. Kyle couldn’t work, so for the first few years all savings went to sending her back to the US every 6 months to renew her visitor visa. Later she signed up for Art School thanks to some family help with hefty foreign student fees.

Meanwhile Mark Watson, a civil servant in the Home Office, facing similar challenges with his foreign partner, took matters into his own hands and illegally stamped his partner’s passport. He was soon caught resulting in a prison sentence for Mark and deportation of his Brazilian partner, Ander. Stonewall, the UK LGBT charity, then in its early days, started an immigration group campaigning for gay and lesbian partners to be allowed to remain in the UK with their UK partners. Although we didn’t have much money and couldn’t afford travel to London for meetings, we were part of the group writing letters and campaigning for immigration rights. A few years later, with the support of Tony Blair and the Labour government, the policy was changed and law was passed to enable gay partners to live and work in the UK. In the end it was a fairly simple and inexpensive process to prove our relationship and in 1999 Kyle gained the right to work and remain in the UK.

Immigration for LGBT+ partners remains a challenge, including for some colleagues in Vodafone, and as with heterosexual partners, there are stringent income requirements and Life in the UK tests that need to be passed. Around the world more than 70 countries consider homosexuality illegal and in five of these the death penalty can apply. Moreover, the persecution experienced by LGBT+ people in many of these countries goes well beyond any official prosecutions and they are frequently ostracised by their own communities and families without any recourse to protection. The fight for equality is far from over and our partner, Stonewall, continue to work towards acceptance without exception in the UK and abroad.