Home' South Florida Gay News : SFGN 010616 Contents 01.06.2016 • 21
With this year’s Supreme Court victory
for marriage equality, it is easy to
forget that LGBT people still face dire
circumstances over large swaths of the globe.
Seventy-nine countries still criminalize LGBT
life in some way, including some that have the
death penalty. While these laws are sometimes
directly enforced, they more often reinforce
societal discrimination and embolden both
state and non-state actors to target the
inflammatory rhetoric in the U.S . signals new
challenges for human rights activists in places
such as Uganda and Russia. In recent years,
the lucrative anti-gay industry has had success
exporting its toxic mix of pseudoscience,
religion, and fear.
Scott Lively, who made his name blaming
homosexuals for the Holocaust, is one example
of a hate entrepreneur. As this country became
increasingly unreceptive, he shifted his focus to
a more receptive overseas audience. Uganda’s
infamous “Kill the Gays” bill owes much of
its “intellectual” backing to Lively and his ilk.
Lively has also ventured into Russia, where his
message has contributed to President Vladimir
Putin’s crackdown on LGBT expression.
And of course there are the two most
populous countries, where queer organizing
is still a precarious endeavor. India’s judiciary
seemed to have invalidated its sodomy law,
only to reinstate it subsequently. Windows of
hope crack open occasionally in China only to
be shut by leaders eager to quash any activity
that could be seen as human rights organizing.
Given these attacks on LGBT life, we must
ask ourselves what we can do from our
privileged position. Supporting organizations
in the affected countries when they request
such support is critical to building sustainable
local movements. Already European and
North American governments and private
foundations fund HIV/AIDS prevention and
treatment programs that work with activists
focused on issues of sexual orientation and
gender identity. Many times this is the only way
to organize in extremely dangerous settings.
Beyond such support, our country must
provide refuge for LGBT individuals who are
forced from their countries of origin. While
asylum exists as an option for some, it places
an inordinate burden on most persecuted
individuals. A gay man from Jamaica, for
instance, must gather enough money to move
to the U.S. and obtain a temporary visa under
false pretenses. If his community finds out, he
may not survive the ensuing mob. If the U.S .
consular officer who is interviewing him for his
tourist or student visa finds out that he fears
persecution due to his sexual orientation, that
officer will likely deny his only path to the U.S .
and to freedom.
The obstacles do not end there. LGBT
individuals must navigate a byzantine legal
system to win asylum. This entails finding
legal representation, a particularly tricky
endeavor in a field crowded with incompetent
lawyers and non-lawyer scammers. Asylum
seekers must find a job or other way to support
themselves, but virtually no one is authorized
to work legally until 180 days after filing an
asylum application. Networks of support
that are available to other immigrants are
often unavailable due to homophobia within
many families and immigrant communities.
Healthcare, especially related to mental well-
being, is not readily available in most of the
U.S. Mental health services are incredibly
important to these individuals, nearly all
of whom have endured torture or other
traumas. Finding culturally and linguistically
appropriate professionals who are also LGBT-
affirming can be daunting.
Once asylum is granted, which can take
several years, the problems do not end. While
asylees are allowed to immediately petition
for spouses and children outside the U.S ., this
option is closed to most asylees with same-
sex partners. In a recent move, the State
Department changed its policy to allow some
same-sex partners from a few countries to
immigrate once their partners are designated
as refugees. However, the vast majority of
families of LGBT asylees are left to fend for
themselves in the persecuting countries or
somehow find their own way out.
The federal government could alleviate
many of these challenges by incorporating
LGBT communities into its refugee admissions
policy. Horror stories abound of LGBT
individuals and families pleading to U.S .
embassies and their international partners for
life-saving assistance, only to be turned away.
Not only should the U.S . be steering these
individuals through the refugee process, but
also officials should be proactively identifying
potential beneficiaries. Once in the U.S ., these
refugees need services that are sensitive to the
types of persecution they suffered. Advocates
report that current resettlement programs
contracting with the federal government are
plagued with homophobia and transphobia.
Regardless of how they reach our country,
LGBT immigrants deserve support services
that address their very particular needs.
Unfortunately, this population’s needs remain
neglected even as the number of funding
sources for LGBT-focused and immigrant-
focused programs grows. The fact remains
that even the most altruistic-sounding service
providers follow the money, meaning much of
the inaction stems from the lack of funding
dedicated specifically to LGBT immigrants.
Money is not the only issue; the ideological
priorities of the movement also matter. Many
LGBT organizations are ultimately run by
wealthier, whiter gay men (although there are
exceptions). Marriage was their goal, and now
it is time to pack up the movement and ride off
into the sunset. Grassroots activists are left to
address a host of pressing issues, to name just a
few: transgender justice, economic disparities,
youth and education, and immigration.
LGBT issues do not fare much better at major
immigrant advocacy organizations. Many
of these groups fight for what they term
“comprehensive” immigration reform yet omit
There is indeed an ongoing refugee crisis
that has largely escaped the attention of this
country. How the LGBT community responds
will be a measure of whether the movement
will carry forth the legacy of Stonewall.
the other reFugee crisis
Sebastian Maguire is an immigration attorney and legislative aide to New York City Council
Member Daniel Dromm.
column of the week
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