Leila Zadeh is the Executive Director of UKLGIG – one of CAN Mezzanine Borough’s customers. UKLGIG supports LGBTQIA+ people through the asylum and immigration process. Their vision is a world where there is equality, dignity, respect and safety for all people in the expression of their sexual or gender identity.
Take part in UKLGIG #LendYourVoice campaign to introduce a time limit on immigration detention here.
1. Your typical day
I normally get up at 6 and take part in a bootcamp on the seafront in Brighton at 6.30. I find it’s the best way for me to get energised for the day. I then do an hour’s work from home before getting on the train to London Bridge – and continuing to work on the train. It means I have two hours each day to get work done with no meetings and minimal distractions.
Once in London, I normally have meetings with my colleagues about our services providing legal advice and psychosocial and emotional support to LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum. Sometimes people have very complex needs and we work as a team to consider the best solution for an individual.
Then, I will often go to a meeting with Home Office civil servants of members of parliament, as part of our work to improve the asylum system. The government often expects too much from LGBTQI+ people before accepting that they need refugee protection, so we trying to get the Home Office to apply the correct ‘standard of proof’ when they make decisions in LGBTQI+ asylum claims.
We are also trying to get an end to the detention of LGBTQI+ people under immigration powers, and a time limit on all immigration detention. Detention causes great harm to people’s health and has a damaging effect on their families and communities. LGBTQI+ people are at particular risk of harm as many experiences homophobic, biphobic and transphobic harassment inside detention centres.
Once a month in the evening we have a meeting for LGBTQI+ people seeking asylum to listen to specialist volunteer lawyers explain the process of claiming asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. Attendees can also speak to our volunteer lawyers and support work staff in private appointments. Our whole team helps to run these meetings.
It’s great that CAN Mezzanine at Borough has a floor full of meeting rooms so we can run these events!
2. You’re responsible for…
As the executive director, I help set the organisation’s strategy and lead UKLGIG to achieve our aims and objectives. I am also responsible for delivering our policy and advocacy work.
3. How do you feel working in UKLGIG?
UKLGIG is a unique organisation that I feel very privileged to be part of. We work with highly marginalised people that often don’t get help from other NGOs and may be afraid of accessing public services such as the NHS.
Our services make a direct difference to people’s lives, and we are achieving longer-term change with our policy work.
4. Your greatest achievement
My greatest personal achievement was cycling from Brighton to Paris alone in 2016. I decided to do this challenge on a Monday, bought a bike the next day and set off on the Wednesday. I had no experience of anything like this and I got myself there by sheer determination and will-power. It made me feel like I could do anything if I just put my mind to it.
UKLGIG’s most historic achievement was getting the first positive recognition of same-sex relationships in UK law. This was in the 1990s when we managed to get the government to give gay and lesbian couples the same immigration rights as married and unmarried straight couples.
Since then, we have helped thousands of LGBTQI+ people secure leave to remain in the UK – either as someone’s partner or through receiving protection from persecution.
5. Your greatest challenge
Running a small organisation places a lot of demand on your time and resources. You have to be really clear what your objectives and boundaries are. All our staff and volunteers are really dedicated so it helps to know what we will and won’t do so we can manage the pressures on us.
6. What have you learnt so far?
It’s really important to be person-centred in our services. Our clients are LGBTQI+ but they are also from different countries, of different faiths, able-bodied or disabled etc. As each person’s experiences are different, we have to take the time to assess their needs holistically and adapt our services accordingly.
7. Your plan B…
There is no plan B. We are committed to our plan A!
Until all of us everywhere accept people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics, our work will continue.
8. Coffee or Tea?
Coffee! I drink it before my bootcamp to kickstart my metabolism.
9. Your favourite quote…
Nelson Mandela: "Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is manmade, and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice.
It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life."
10. Your inspiration?
The people we work with every day. Seeing people who have been through the most traumatic ordeals and come to this country and are not treated very well, but they still manage to get up, leave the house and come to our services with a smile. It’s humbling.