Entertainment » Culture

LGBT asylum seekers :: give me your tired, your poor and queer (maybe)

by Joseph Erbentraut
Monday Jan 24, 2011

While our own country’s LGBT movement has remained fixated on issues of open military service and marriage equality in the last few years, it is not difficult to understand why, to LGBT people in so many other parts of the world, the United States represents an almost inconceivably accepting alternative to their experiences of discrimination, violence and persecution in their home countries.

In Uganda, LGBT people have been outed in local press and face the threat of a pending anti-homosexuality law that criminalize open queer identity - or "aggravated homosexuality," as the proposed law calls it. In Turkey, an LGBT group was ordered to be shut down by a criminal court under reportedly false claims that one member was engaging in prostitution -- at least three other gay groups in that country have fought similar legal battles in recent years. A 32-year-old Malaysian gay man received death threats and fears for his life after making pro-LGBT comments in a YouTube video. In Lithuania, lawmakers there are working to push legislation that would make the publicly promoting homosexual relations" illegal.

Recently reports emerged from Iran that two young men - aged 20 and 21 - who had filmed themselves having sex on a mobile phone were scheduled to be stoned to death after government agents discovered the film. The purpose of the killing, according to early reports is "to instill fear in the people of Iran."

Tip of the iceberg

Such examples are only a random sampling of recent headlines that have been reported by Western media. These stories represent only the tip of the iceberg of grave discrimination that many LGBT people face on a near-daily basis. As such, emboldened by the United States’ increasingly inclusive take on issues of sexual orientation- and gender identity-motivated persecution, LGBT people from around the globe are pursuing asylum status here.

Since 1994, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under then-Attorney General Janet Reno, has recognized queer people as "part of a particular group" (currently the closest thing to specifically LGBT-inclusive wording in their policy) that’s eligible for protection in the States. The hopes of those applying for asylum aren’t too different from anyone else’s -- a comfortable life working in a job they enjoy and feel passionate about, finding a loved one and maybe even starting a family. But even when successfully granted asylum status, they still encounter major obstacles in their efforts to find stability, safety and community while rebuilding their new lives.

Looking beyond the incendiary rhetoric that often revolves around the issue of immigration in today’s political climate, EDGE spoke with a number of leading voices fighting for the rights and protections of LGBT asylum seekers and asylees here in the U.S., including one Venezuelan transgender man who’s already ridden the process’s arduous ride.


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