Joyce’s Story

In my country, you are just not allowed to be a lesbian. It is a taboo. You are called a witch and you are ostracized, if you are a lesbian. So because of my sexuality, I wanted to run away from my country.

I worked in the market in Ghana, there were lots of us women, and I sold fabrics and textiles. I had a girlfriend and she also worked there. But she went to Dubai – because, like me, she was a lesbian and our country doesn’t make that easy. So she put me in touch with the agency that had helped her and they brought me to the UK. I didn’t know anything about travelling, I just paid the agents money and they brought me here.

I didn’t tell my family about my sexuality – I just said I was going to the UK. And my husband started talking to people saying I’m this and I’m that. Talking behind my back, telling people I was a witch.

My kids are 15 years old and 13 years old. The girl is 15 and the boy is 13 – and they’re with my Mum now, I had to leave them behind with her, I couldn’t bring them here.

I came here in October 2017. It’s very good here – here you can expose yourself, you can be whoever you like. When I went to the screening to seek asylum, I was very very scared. I thought maybe they’d send me back home. But when I got there, they asked me everything and I just answered. And they said ‘okay we’ll give you a card and if the police stop you, you can show them this’. It doesn’t mean I have full refugee status but I can work and things. So they gave me that and then they told me to wait.

I’ve used that card to open a bank account and I tried at the post office to get a driving licence application form too but they said I couldn’t get a permit to drive yet because I hadn’t lived here three years. And I started looking for jobs and I signed up for a domestic work agency and sometimes they call me in to clean and I clean places.

Last week, I cleaned at the hospice and that was hard, it was a tough place to be every day. But, generally, I’m happy here.

This country is very, very amazing. Last year, we went to London Pride and sometimes we go outside of London – to a beach party, like in Brighton. So I am happy here, very very happy. And I am praying that when I go to the main interview, they will accept me – and then I can go anywhere I like. Except my country – I don’t want to go there. But I can go to France, Germany, anywhere I want…

I don’t know when my main interview is – I am waiting but they haven’t called me yet.

Back home, if they find out about you, they don’t even want to touch you. That’s why I didn’t know what to do in Ghana.

Back home, we had a group – and we would meet together, we met all the time. Socializing, drinking, dancing. And one day, I just got that feeling – and my girlfriend kissed me. We had a little bit to drink, we were tipsy, and I felt this thing between us. It was the first time a woman had ever kissed me.

I found out I was a lesbian when I was about 13. I wasn’t nice to boys at school – when they wanted to talk to me, I didn’t want to. But I got married – back home, you have to. The guy I married, he was a taxi driver and he was nice to me and he told my parents ‘I want to marry Joyce, blah, blah, blah’. I tried my best. But I cried a lot. I tried my best to make it work but I’d always run away from him to my mum’s house. And they’d send me back and they’d say ‘you have to, blah, blah, blah’. He’d force me to have sex and it was always a struggle, there was always a struggle about that. He told me I was a witch – that’s what you say in Africa, if you struggle.

He started going out – even with girls. And I didn’t bother him about it, I wasn’t interested. I would just leave him alone. I worked very very hard in my job, and I’d forget about it all.

My first girlfriend, I met her at the salon. And she told me about this group and she said I could join them every month – I didn’t know before that there was anything like it in Ghana. But after we began dating, people noticed and they would throw rubbish at us and they would stop shopping at our market stools. So I had to leave – leave all that behind.

Last week, I was working at the hospice and there was this Brazilian woman. She’s called Claudia. And she invited me to Stratford with her – she said ‘just come and have a drink’. So I went there, and we just drank. Maybe she is interested in me, I don’t know. We’ll see…

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