Tuesday, June 17, 2014

WSJ: Gay Asylum-Seekers; Petrelis Lobbied State Dept in 1991

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal's print edition on page one carried an extensive story by Joel Millman about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons from around the world applying for and generally receiving asylum status in America through the State Department. Click here to read the full article and view the photos.

(Carlos Fernando Vallejo, a Honduran sex worker and transgender activist known as Fernanda, decided to seek asylum in the U.S. after her life was threatened. Photo credit: Natalie Keyssar.)

There's a particular focus on LGBT folks from Honduras who've achieved asylum in the United States, and the horrific violence they faced at home not to mention overall high murder rate for all Hondurans. Millman writes:

"For that, [a gay Honduran] will rely on something most aspiring immigrants here can't: membership in a class the U.S. State Department recognizes as under attack. 'Social discrimination against LGBT persons was widespread' in Honduras, reads the department's 2013 international human-rights report, using an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The report notes that 'NGOs reported 24 violent deaths of LGBT individuals' through last September.

"Such official assessments have fueled a surge of successful asylum petitions from gays and lesbians in the Americas. Arguing that they suffer persecution because of their sexual orientation, hundreds if not thousands have managed to find safe haven, and a potential path to U.S. citizenship, in recent years. Fellow Latin Americans lodging asylum claims based on generalized violence, meanwhile, are routinely denied. [...]

"A close analysis of asylum trends, though, suggests that most gay asylum seekers don't come from these high-profile countries [Uganda, Nigeria], but rather from the Americas. Data compiled by Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services unit don't break out asylum claims for gays and lesbians, who typically apply under a catchall category called 'member of a particular social group.' According to data released to The Wall Street Journal under the Freedom of Information Act, the largest source countries over the past decade were Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Haiti, with Russia coming in fifth place. 
The article contains a tone of the LGBT people are getting special treatment by the State Department and if that is the case, we have no problem with it because our brothers and sisters in too many countries are targeted, literally and figuratively, for legally enshrined discrimination, physical assaults and mental degradation and also state-sanctioned executions or societal killings.

Our State Department has created special categories for select asylum-seekers, as with Jews escaping the Soviet Union, or fast-tracked their applications. We also have exceptional visas for foreign workers in specialized fields such as the H-1B visa sought by many engineers wanting to work in Silicon Valley.

Based on the extraordinary level of hatred and violence against LGBT individuals in certain countries, we fully support a large number of a special class of entry visas and expedited processing of asylum claims for gays from countries where they face great harm and potential death.

We're also proud that my advocacy on behalf of LGBT persons at the State Department that stretches back more than two-decades, and his current community organizing with the Gays Without Borders coalition, received recognition in the Wall Street Journal:
"Michael Petrelis, an organizer for the group Gays Without Borders, says he began lobbying the U.S. State Department to monitor what he and others called 'atrocities' against gays world-wide starting in 1991, as an Act Up militant in Washington. 'We tried all approaches,' says the 55-year-old activist, who lives now in San Francisco. 'Winning asylum for those who got here. Fighting to document attacks. Using the State Department's annual human rights reports so our folks could gain asylum.'" 
Back in 1991, when there was only one gay citation in the department's annual human rights survey, my ACT UP colleague and friend Margaret Cantrell, along with their good pal the late Barrett Brick of the World Jewish Congress, met with the analyst who wrote the surveys back then. He was presented with voluminous news stories by gay reporter Rex Wockner from around the world about the human rights abuses of LGBT people.

Of course, since then the State Department has made tremendous strides forward in countless ways to address those abuses and protect the universal human rights of LGBT people everywhere and the battle for respect and acceptance of our brothers and sisters continues.

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