Tag Archives: Law & Politics

Citations | LGBTQ+ Asylum-seekers

Asylum Claims and the Adjudication of Sexual Identity

In immigration systems around the world, credibility stands as the primary burden of proof and identity indicator for sexual and gender minorities fleeing persecution in their countries of origin. In determining who assesses credibility and how, however, precision has long eluded researchers, lawmakers, and adjudicators as fluidity and multiplicity in identity has come to define sexual- and gender-minority communities. The reliance on expert assessments and interviewer perceptions in legal and administrative decisions has proven problematic from both a scientific and human rights perspective. Testing often involves a combination of physiological and psychological measurement, from arousal responses to personality assessments, and interviews have been based on a range of cultural biases and unrealistic expectations.

Immigration laws across nations have variously granted or denied asylum based on behavior, identity, affiliation, or perception, and the lack of standardization has created a large degree of uncertainty for LGBT individuals fleeing unsafe conditions in their countries of origin. This Citations installment outlines the patchwork of domestic and international laws and guidelines framing the consideration of asylum claims by sexual and gender minorities in popular destination countries, region- and country-specific legal and administrative processes, and recent trends in the assessment of sexual and gender identity and asylum claims.


The U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention) established guidelines determining the status of an individual as a refugee, defined as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” The “membership of a particular social group” item has become the cornerstone of the expansion of asylum rights to LGBT individuals fleeing persecution, and international organizations have undertaken efforts to outline frameworks for ascertaining such membership.

European Union

In a victory for LGBT asylum-seekers in Europe, the E.U. Court of Justice recently ruled against Hungarian immigration officials’ decision to deny a gay Nigerian’s asylum claim as the result of a sexuality assessment test. In its ruling, the ECJ determined that while such psychological assessments are not prohibited, the results cannot factor into asylum decisions when testing methodology contravenes any of the human rights outlined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The decision comes as the culmination of a series of rulings related to the assessment of sexual identity in asylum decisions in member states amid historic levels of trans-Mediterranean migration.

United States

Since 1994, the U.S. has recognized sexual identity as grounds for granting asylum in the country. The political and legal recognition of LGBT asylum-seekers has co-evolved with that of LGBT citizens, with asylum decision-making processes having liberalized alongside greater scientific research into sexual orientation and expanding legal rights and protections for LGBT citizens. Today, LGBT asylum-seekers submit an application that includes documentation corroborating both individual circumstances as well as the conditions LGBT individuals face in their country of origin and are then selected to participate in an interview with the Department of Homeland Security. With no government data kept regarding the outcome of claims based on sexual orientation, however, transparency and accountability have emerged as central issues for advocates and watchdogs seeking to promote security and rigor in adjudication.


While Australia has recognized sexual orientation as part of the 1951 Convention’s designation of “membership of a particular social group,” the country has faced significant criticism for its asylum process for LGBT petitioners, which has included low approval rates and offshore detention that has further imperiled asylum-seekers. When asylum-seekers have gone before the Refugee and Migration Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in a final attempt to secure asylum, they have faced arbitrary, invasive, stereotypical, and culturally ignorant lines of questioning and expectations by interviewers and offered private photos and texts by asylum-seekers in desperation to “confirm” their sexual identity.


As immigration and refugee acceptance have become political hot topics in Europe, the U.S., and Australia, Canada has sought to position itself as a beacon of acceptance for individuals fleeing to the Global North to escape war or persecution. LGBT individuals petitioning for asylum enjoy higher-than-average approval rates in the country, but advocates have noted that Canada’s adjudication process has historically suffered from the same cultural biases and pitfalls in credibility assessment as other popular destination countries. Tight claim deadlines and multiple points of inquiry introduce further precarity in the process, but advocates are hopeful that a new set of guidelines issued in 2017 will improve the adjudication process. 

South Africa

A popular destination for LGBT Africans seeking refuge outside of their countries of origin, South Africa positioned itself as an early global leader in the establishment of LGBT legal rights and protections. Though the most progressive African nation in this respect, the country has nevertheless been criticized for the legal process through which it puts LGBT asylum-seekers, including reliance on temporary permits to defer long-term status provision and intimidation and credibility issues in the interview process.


Ghana Research | LGBT

The Ongoing Insecurity of LGBT Ghanaians

Source: Human Rights Watch/YouTube (January 2018)

A relatively stable constitutional democracy, Ghana has seen the beginnings of official outreach to its LGBT citizens in recent years as it has signed on to pro-LGBT international accords and treaties, but new research from Human Rights Watch (HRW) reveals ongoing persecution and gender-based vulnerabilities. Though rarely enforced, a law criminalizing same-sex relations that emerged from the country’s colonial legacy has led to the political and corporal endangerment of LGBT Ghanaians, exposing them to intimidation, violence, fears of public exposure, and little to no recourse to law enforcement protection. Lesbians, bisexual women, and trans men have faced especially high levels of violence and labor precarity, and anti–domestic violence laws have done little to protect them given the lack of trust in the legal system. In response, HRW conducted interviews with LGBT Ghanaians to track insecurity across a range of social, legal, and economic domains and issued a set of recommendations to improve protections for the community.


‘No Choice but to Deny Who I Am’: Violence and Discrimination against LGBT People in Ghana” (Human Rights Watch | January 2018)


‘One guy took a cutlass’: gay women at greater risk of violence in Ghana” (The Guardian | January 2018)


Solace Initiative

Israel News | African Asylum-seekers

Israel announces deportation plan for tens of thousands of African asylum-seekers
  • Some 40,000 African asylum-seekers—many activists and other dissidents from Sudan and Eritrea—are facing expulsion or imprisonment in Israel, with fewer than 1% of applicants having been granted refugee status.
  • The Israeli government announced that asylum-seekers will have 90 days to accept $3,500 and a plane ticket to a classified third country (speculated to be Rwanda or Uganda) or face incarceration.
  • In response, a network of more than a hundred rabbis called the Anne Frank Home Sanctuary Movement has formed and pledged to protect asylum-seekers from deportation.

Israel to tell African migrants: leave or face indefinite imprisonment” (The Guardian | January 2018)

Mass expulsion under way as Israel begins deporting 40,000 Africans” (Middle East Eye | January 2018)

Inspired by Anne Frank, Rabbis in Israel Plan to Hide African Asylum Seekers Facing Deportation” (Haaretz | January 2018)

Read More

Inside Israel’s Secret Program to Get Rid of African Refugees” (Foreign Policy | June 2017)


The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants

Pakistan Feature | Trans Women

The Fitful Progress of the Movement for Pakistani Trans Lives

Source: CGTN YouTube

By way of Pakistan’s landmark 2017 census, some 10,000 transgender Pakistanis have become officially visible in the eyes of the government, though community organizers say the number is likely much larger. Illiteracy, poverty, disenfranchisement, trafficking, threats to sexual health, and the dangers of unregulated sex work plague Pakistan’s trans women (khawaja siras, a reclaimed term in the trans community), but the recent securing of legal protections have given hope to a community where precarity reigns.

While communities of trans women have provided kinship and security where mainstream society has offered a mix of scorn and fetish, hierarchical systems within the communities have layered additional vulnerabilities upon threats already faced. The women have organized and built security-focused civil groups, and the last decade has seen a number of victories including census recognition, a third-gender option on ID cards, limited economic investments, and technological and political tools for accountability in law enforcement. Some hardline conservatives have become unlikely allies as trans women are seen among some Islamic sects as holy, though they have stopped short of supporting partnership rights. Recent international media coverage has highlighted recent gains as well as ongoing insecurity for Pakistan’s increasingly visible trans community.


Pakistan’s Transgender Women, Long Marginalized, Mobilize For Rights” (NPR | January 2018)

Tabooed transgender community still facing discrimination but to be protected in Pakistan” (Xinhua | January 2018)

New App TransMuhafiz Puts Pakistani Transphobic Offenders in the Spotlight” (Planet Transgender | January 2018)


Transgenders: Pakistan’s Open Secret (Clover Filmsvia Real Stories/YouTube | December 2016)

Somebody (TriumF Mediavia YouTube | September 2017)


TransAction Pakistan

Iceland News | Women

Gender pay parity law comes into effect in Iceland
  • Companies and public agencies with at least 25 employees will be required to obtain government certification of equal-pay practices or face fines.
  • Iceland became the first country to mandate pay equality by legislation in 2017, with the law now in effect with the arrival of the new year.
  • Since 2006, Iceland has closed 10% of its pay gap—one of the fastest improvement rates in the world—and pledged to eradicate it by 2020.

In Iceland, it’s now illegal to pay men more than women” (Al Jazeera | January 2018)

Iceland first nation to make pay equality a legal requirement” (The New Zealand Herald | January 2018)

Iceland set to tackle gender pay gap with world’s toughest law” (BBC News | March 2017)


The Global Gender Gap Report 2017 (World Economic Forum)

Afghanistan Feature | Women

The Invasive “Virginity Tests” of Afghanistan

Despite its condemnation by international medical experts as scientifically unsound and official promises to ban the procedure, healthcare and judicial systems in Afghanistan have continued to rely on abusive assessments of sexual activity in women accused or suspected of extramarital sex. The potential social catastrophe that could result from a positive result has led to the development of a black market of so-called hymen reconstruction, which has led to further health insecurity for women who undergo the procedure. Even the administration of the test can bring social shame to those subjected to it, leading to poor outcomes in education and employment as well as a contracting social network. Afghanistan is far from the only country in which the tests continues, and globalized efforts to end the gender-discriminatory practice have encountered mixed success in changing deeply rooted cultural norms.


The shame of Afghanistan’s virginity tests” (BBC News | December 2017)

Despite Ban, Invasive Virginity Tests Remain Prevalent in Afghanistan” (The New York Times | January 2017)


Here’s Everything You Need To Know About ‘Virginity Tests’” (BuzzFeed News | November 2017)

Singapore News | Gay Men

Singaporean gay man denied adoption rights for biological child
  • A Singapore court ruled against a man seeking to adopt his biological son mothered by a surrogate in the U.S.
  • The man, currently in a same-sex relationship, pursued international surrogacy due to his remote chances at adoption in Singapore, where male same-sex relations are still illegal.
  • Surrogacy is prohibited and in-vitro services available only to married couples in Singapore, leading many Singaporean couples both same- and different-sex couples to seek assisted reproduction services abroad.

Singapore court rejects gay man’s bid to adopt biological son” (NBC News | December 2017)

More Singapore couples seeking surrogacy services” (The Straits Times | December 2017)

Gay Singaporean loses bid to adopt biological son fathered via surrogate” (Agence France-Presse, via AsiaOne | December 2017)