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#RefugeesWelcome

Meet Warren, a gay refugee who gave his friend the courage to be true to himself

“He’s taught me to be open and honest about being gay, to be honest with who I am.”

Darren is describing Warren: his best friend, confidant and the person who gave him the confidence to come out to his colleagues.

Warren and Darren met in 2011 while working in the British civil service together in London. Although Darren was out to his friends and family, he stayed quiet about it at work. “I’d never dream of lying to people—but I also wouldn’t be totally open about it,” he explains. “Warren’s taught me that when you move to a new job, you should be proud of yourself—celebrate who you are and that it doesn’t matter who you fancy or who you love.”

Warren, who grew up in a country in Southeast Asia where homosexuality is still criminalized, knows what it’s like to hide who you are.

Warren (left) and Darren stand in front of a Union Jack flag in London

Warren (left) met Darren at work in 2011 and gave his new friend the courage to come out to his colleagues.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Back in 1990, Warren was granted a prestigious scholarship by the government of his home country to study at Edinburgh University. Life was exciting: Warren was enjoying his studies and exploring Edinburgh’s gay scene. In his third year at university, Warren spoke to another gay student about his sexuality in a bar. It was a conversation that changed his life forever.

This student wrote a letter, outing Warren of being homosexual to both the government and his family back home. It had a devastating effect. “The government cut off my university funding and I was sent a letter from the authorities telling me I needed to return to my home country to stand trial for being gay. When my family found out, they disowned me. As far as my dad’s concerned, I’m dead.”

I was sent a letter from the authorities telling me I needed to return to my home country to stand trial for being gay.

A close friend of Warren’s advised him to claim asylum in the United Kingdom. At the time, there was no precedent for people being granted refugee status on the basis of being LGBTQI. “My case was the one that changed the law,” Warren explains. It took five long years, but eventually Warren was granted refugee status in the UK.

Warren and Darren at a pub in London. Warren says that Darren makes life more fun. They've both supported each other through tough times.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Warren has now lived in the UK for 28 years and has been given British citizenship. In 2006, he married Howard, his partner of 20 years. “I’m his rock and he’s mine and he’s stuck by me through everything,” Warren says. “Because my family abandoned me, I’ve always craved to have my own family – that’s what I’ve got with Howard.”

Because my family abandoned me, I’ve always craved to have my own family.

Warren has worked hard to build a new life far from home, even as he helped his colleague and friend Darren navigate his own new world of gay social life in London.

“I’ve had a colorful employment history,” Warren says. “I’ve worked for an international modeling agency, for Elle magazine, as a ski instructor, and now as a civil servant. When Darren first joined my team in the civil service, I remember him telling me he doesn’t go out on the scene. I thought, 'well, I’m an experienced scene queen—I’m going to take you out and show you how it’s done!'”

 

Darren and Warren talk at a pub table over over pints of beer

Darren feels like he can tell Warren anything and he'll always be ready to listen.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Warren and Darren have become closer over the years. Each appreciates the other as a great listener. “He’ll let you rant and then he’ll start dropping these pearls of wisdom,” Darren says of Warren. “You could tell him anything and he’ll never be shocked. He’s helped me through some really difficult times.”

Warren feels similarly supported by Darren: “In 2017, I had a bad bout of depression. When you’re in that state, you just want to be by yourself. Darren was the first person I told. He became my go-to person. As well as listening to my troubles, he gave me advice, or if he didn’t know the answer, he’d search it online and send links to me. Everything I do socially I involve him – he’s my best friend, when he’s there he makes life more fun. And… he always laughs at my jokes!”

He’s my best friend, when he’s there he makes life more fun. And… he always laughs at my jokes!

Warren and Darren can often be found laughing over a pint of beer at one of their favorite watering holes around London after work. Pride is also a mainstay in their social calendar, but it hasn’t always been that way for Darren.  

“Warren’s got me more into Pride than I ever was,” Darren says. “Before I met Warren, I used to be of the opinion that I was gay but I didn’t need to shout and scream about it. My gay life was very insular and personal. But actually, and I can genuinely say this is down to Warren, I realize that we do have a right to be out there and to celebrate being gay. This year, there’s no doubt Warren and I will be … watching the [Pride] parade.”

This story was first published by IRC Europe.

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