On October 20th, the Millennium Campus Network (MCN) hosted a webinar with AsylumConnect on LGBTQ Asylum and the refugee crisis. I am the Secretary for the AsylumConnect team, which is part of the Millennium Campus Network's Peace Campaign. We had two fantastic speakers for the webinar, both of whom are advisors to AsylumConnect.
Fernando Chang-Muy is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law and an expert in refugee law and policy. He gave attendees an overview of how the U.N. and the U.S. defined a refugee as a person who is unwilling or unable to return to his or her home country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political opinion. LGBTQ asylum seekers cite the “social group” part of the definition as to why they have a fear of persecution.
Chang-Muy took several questions from the audience, and one person asked if there is a refugee cap that the United States is willing to accept. Chang-Muy explained that the cap is 70,000 people divided between the 5 parts of the world (South America, Africa, etc.). The President said he would raise it to 80,000 people for the next year, and 10,000 spots will be reserved for Syrian refugees. It is the President who determines this cap. And the allotment divided throughout the world is fluid. If more spots are needed for a particularly war-torn area, the allotment for a peaceful part of the world can be minimized.
Chang-Muy also spoke to the particular challenges LGBTQ asylum seekers face. Trying to prove you are actually LGBTQ can be a challenge. Sometimes the only evidence is your own word. For example, if you were in the closet in your home country, you do not have anyone to testify on your behalf. Also, it can be hard to prove you will be persecuted in your country of origin. Perhaps a country may seemingly be LGBTQ-friendly in its urban or tourist areas, but LGBTQ people could be severely discriminated against in rural areas.
Jacque Larrainzar, another AsylumConnect advisor, also spoke to her experience as an LGBTQ Refugee/Immigrant Outreach Specialist at Seattle Counseling Service (SCS). Larrainzar is the first lesbian from Mexico to receive asylum in the U.S. due to sexual orientation, and knows first hand how hard the process can be. She applied in 1997 and it took three years to be completed. Her current work includes creating specific training for mental health providers on the specific needs of asylees or immigrants or undocumented immigrants. Larrainzar gave a great anecdote about her conversation with a girl in her 20's who is an asylee from Somalia. One thing she wants people to understand is that LGBTQ asylees are resilient, and should be acknowledged for their strength in overcoming adversity.
Finally, Katie Sgarro, Co-founder of AsylumConnect, spoke about what her organization is working on. AsylumConnect is a volunteer initiative that will seek to provide LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. with lifesaving online informational resources. We are working towards creating the first website and mobile app to feature an online, centralized database of service providers useful to LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. The AsylumConnect catalog will help persecuted LGBTQ people find basic human needs resources upon their arrival in the U.S. It is estimated that our work will benefit 300,000 LGBTQ asylum seekers. We are currently working on a model of the catalog focused on services in Seattle, Washington.
Stay tuned for the next MCN webinar by AsylumConnect and visit www.asylumconnect.org to learn more about us.
-Alex, AsylumConnect Secretary