The process of getting a new passport should be a simple and relatively stress-free process. However, that was not the case for Mr Randall Cole, who found himself being pushed to answer very invasive personal questions about his family life – all of this taking place in front of his 4-year old son.
Cole was born in the US, became a british citizen this year, and has been married to another British citizen since 2001. The 44-year old charity worked went to a passport office in Chelmsford, Essex, expecting in his words a ‘straightforward interview’. But when speaking to an official in the office he found himself being questioned about his sexual practices and was allegedly threatened when he refused to answer.
Speaking to the Guardian on Sunday 13 July, Cole related in his words the treatment he received:
‘I told her I am here with my son Samuel and that he has an older brother [Benjamin, eight] but that my husband is looking after him – and when I used the term husband that’s when you could see something immediately changed in her. She began to fixate on questions about my family.
‘She said: “Is this your biological child?” And when I said no she said: “Is it your partner’s biological child?” And when I explained that we are family through adoption she said: “Oh, so that’s why you’re able to have children.”
‘She then asked, “What do the children call their birth mother?” and “What does the birth mother think about all of us?” and “Aren’t the children confused by it all?”
‘Then she said: “What do you think people make of you when they see you walking down the street with your kids?”‘
The nature of the questions continued to become more and more gruelling for Cole, who was asked questions about his children’s biological mother andwhether Cole had himself ever been sexually active with women. The official even referred to him as being ‘like a housewife’ when he said he worked part-time.
When Cole attempted to cease the line of questioning, he claims that the official then became angry and stated, ‘We can ask anything we want, regardless of whether or not it makes you feel uncomfortable.’
He said, ‘… it was clear she was trying to humiliate me – a way to get me to say if I’d had sex with a woman. She said I could refuse to answer but my lack of response would be noted and then proceeded to try to get me to answer, through a variety of questions, whether I or Stuart had previously been sexually active heterosexually.
‘I have never felt so violated or humiliated. Her questioning was clearly homophobic, designed to put me in my place. We moved here because of the promise of a tolerant society.’
Cole went on to lodge a formal complaint with the Home Office and recordings of the interview have been reviewed by senior officials. A spokesman for the Home Office has told the press:
‘Intrusive questions about someone’s sexuality as part of an interview would be inappropriate and is not a reflection of our policy.
‘The member of staff in question has been suspended and a disciplinary investigation is now under way.’