Brighton Pride protesters occupy British Airways tower to challenge ‘devastating’ deportations

LGBT activists have occupied a British Airways-owned landmark in Brighton to protest the company’s compliance with migrant deportation during the city’s Pride parade.

Members of Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSM) locked themselves in the i360 observation tower this afternoon, as the parade was in full swing, to protest the “jarring hypocrisy” of BA sponsoring Brighton Pride while deporting asylum seekers.

Data released by the Home Office in November 2017, described by the department as “experimental,” revealed that 74 percent of asylum claims made at least partly on the basis of sexual orientation were rejected.

LGSM protesters held the fort outside the i360 (Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants)

But despite a LGSM starting a petition which has now been signed by more than 51,000 people, and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott joining the cause this week by signing an open letter, BA has refused to follow Virgin Atlantic’s example in ending its part in the deportations.

Sam Bjorn, an LGSM spokesperson, told PinkNews: “By providing space for deportations on their flights, British Airways are having a devastating impact on communities across the UK.

“British Airways are taking people, against their will, to countries where they risk persecution, or have very little connection to.

“Not only is the airline unflinchingly putting people’s lives in danger, it is also making their staff unwillingly complicit in the brutality of the UK’s hostile environment policy,” Bjorn added.

“British Airways are taking people, against their will, to countries where they risk persecution” (Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants)

“Sponsoring Brighton and Hove Pride is not compatible with supporting brutal and and unjust deportations. We won’t stand by and let a company hide behind our rainbow while it is complicit in the Home Office’s cruel deportations.

“British Airways should join Virgin Atlantic in committing to end all forced deportations on their flights.”

LGSM protesters outside the tower chanted: “British Airways, shame on you” as they supported their fellow members inside.

A spokesperson for British Airways told PinkNews that any enquiries about specific protests should be referred to the police.

They added: “British Airways has a long and proud history of supporting the LGBT+ community and we are a proud supporter of Brighton Pride. Over 100 colleagues from our LGBT+ network ‘Flying Proud’ will be taking part in the events of the weekend and flying the flag for modern Britain.

“As a global airline, with a diverse base of customers and colleagues, diversity and inclusion is key to delivering a better service for our customers, and to enable an open and welcoming culture for all our colleagues.”

On the subject of deportations, they said: “Like all UK airlines, we are legally obliged to comply with UK Immigration Law.

“We take this responsibility very seriously and always complete a full risk assessment which considers the safety of the individual, as well as our customers and crew.

“Like all UK airlines, we are legally obliged to comply with UK Immigration Law” (Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants)

“It is a legal requirement (Immigration Act 1971) for all airlines to deport people when asked to do so by the Home Office. Not fulfilling this obligation amounts to breaking the law.

“Airlines only have the right to refuse deportees on the basis that they feel there is a threat to the safety or security of the aircraft / its passengers or the individual.

“We are not given any personal information about the individual being deported, including their sexuality, or why they are being deported. The process we follow is a full risk assessment, with the Home Office, which considers the safety of the individual, our customers and crew on the flight.”

Earlier this year, PinkNews spoke to three lesbian asylum seekers about their harrowing experiences – from depression to attempted suicide – as they fought the UK immigration system for the right to stay in the country.

Around three-quarters of asylum claims made at least partly on the basis of sexual orientation have been rejected (Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants)

As well as headline act Britney Spears, Brighton Pride is set to feature an empty bus highlighting the lack of gay footballers in the Premier League – but the stunt by Paddy Power has been criticised by Stonewall.

The charity called the bus “potentially dangerous” and said it may make coming out harder for players, rather than easier.

Kirsty Clarke, Stonewall’s director of sport, has written that however “well-intentioned” it was, actions like this one “need to stop.”

British Airways has not yet followed Virgin Atlantic’s example (Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants)

She said that “they can spark a frenzy of people trying to guess what players might be lesbian, gay, bi or trans.

“This is not how we create an environment where athletes feel comfortable being open about who they are.”