A Guide to New York City for LGBTQ Asylum Seekers

New York City, NYC, The Big Apple, or simply, “the City”, is arguably the most recognized city in the United States. Once the first stop for immigrants arriving in America by ship, today New York City boasts over 60 million tourists visiting every year.

Facts and Tips:

  • New York is the most populous city in the United States with over 8.5 million residents. That means 1 in 38 Americans live there!

  • Manhattan is organized into streets and avenues. Streets run across town from east to west, and avenues run north and south.

  • There are over 120 colleges and universities in New York City.

  • The city is made up of five unique boroughs (Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island). There are hundreds of individual neighborhoods within the boroughs.

  • Manhattan was purchased by Dutch colonists from its Native American owners in 1626 for the modern equivalent of $1,000.

  • Roughly half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home and there are 800 unique languages spoken in the city. This makes it the most linguistically-diverse city in the world.

  • Avoid unlicensed cabs that charge higher rates. Instead, seek out Yellow Cabs or use a rideshare app.

  • If a taxi does not have its lights turned on, then the cab is already filled. If the “Off Duty” light is turned on, the driver won’t be stopping for any passengers.


New York is a very walkable city and has a large subway system. Many New Yorkers rely solely on public transit.  

Subway: The NYC Subway is the largest subway system in the world and most New Yorkers agree that there is no better way to get around the city.

  • The subway uses non-disposable MetroCards that are available for purchase within metro stations.

  • Subway fare information

  • Subway maps

  • Tip: Express trains stop at certain stations on the line whereas local trains stop at all of the stops on the line, including express stations.

Buses: MTA Buses are located at street corners and have a tall, round sign with a bus emblem and route number.

NYC Ferry: The ferry offers New Yorkers a dependable way to commute and connect in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx along the East River.

Citi Bike Bike Share: Citi Bike has the largest fleet of bikes of any bike share program in the country.

Car Share: NYC has car share programs such as Car2Go and ZipCar. Note that you need a valid driver’s license to rent cars through car share programs.

Rideshare Apps: Across NYC, Uber and Lyft rides can be scheduled using smartphone apps.

Important Phone Numbers:

Here’s a list of important phone numbers that LGBTQ asylum seekers might find useful. It would be best to save these numbers to your phone or have them available at all times in case of an emergency.

Emergency- 911

Police Non-Emergency- 311

LGBT Outreach Unit- 212-614-6748

NY State Civil Rights Bureau- 212-416-8250

NYPD General Inquiries- 646-610-5000

Sex Crimes Report Line- 212-267-RAPE

Crime Stoppers- 800-577-TIPS

Missing Persons Case Status- 212-694-7781

Terrorism Hotline- 88-NYC-SAFE

Gun Stop Program- 866-GUN-STOP

New York State AIDS Referral Hotline- 800-541-2437

New York State HIV Counseling Hotline- 800-872-2777

New York State Immigration Hotline- 212-419-3737

General Local Laws:

While it’s important for everyone to follow the law, it’s especially important when seeking asylum because any infractions with the law could hurt or eliminate your chances of receiving asylum. Here are a few laws that can surprise people who are new to NYC.

  • Drinking age- 21. Drinking in public places is illegal.

  • Smoking- Under the Smoke Free Air Act, smoking is illegal in most indoor spaces and public parks.

  • Marijuana- Although possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana is decriminalized in New York, possession or use of marijuana in public is a misdemeanor offence and can result in arrest. Possession of (used) marijuana paraphernalia is also a criminal misdemeanor.  

  • Driving- Honking your car horn in a non-emergency situation is illegal in New York City and carries a fine of up to $350. Also, you cannot make a right turn against a red stop light as you can in most U.S. cities.

LGBTQ Laws to Know:

There are also some laws that focus on LGBTQ rights that asylum seekers should know so they understand how they are protected and when/if those rights are violated.

  • Bathroom Use Laws- Anyone may use the bathroom conforming with their gender identity.

  • The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA)- It is unlawful for anyone in New York State to be discriminated against in employment, housing, credit, education, and public accommodations because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

  • Dignity for All Students Act (DASA)- DASA provides the state’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination and bullying at school as well as cyberbullying.

  • Marriage Equality Act- Same-sex couples have the right to marry in New York. The act does not require religious institutions to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, but no state employee can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.   

State Resources for Non-Citizens:

When moving to a new place, it’s easy to be overwhelmed as there’s a lot to know and things can work very differently. Here’s a list of resources that LGBTQ asylum seekers may want to take advantage of to help make the move to NYC a little easier.

  • Driver’s license/ID Card- You can drive in New York State with a valid driver’s license from another country. You don’t need to apply for a New York State driver’s license unless you become a New York State resident. NY State grants driver’s licenses and state ID cards to immigrants who can show a combination of certain documentation proving identification.

  • Public Schools- Children in New York are able to attend New York City public schools regardless of immigration status.

  • Health Insurance- In New York State, children under 19-years-old in low-income families can get free health insurance, regardless of immigration status.

Helpful Links:

In case there’s additional information that we didn’t cover, here are some additional links that you may find helpful if you’re a new LGBTQ asylum seeker in NYC.

Disclaimer: The contents herein are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice. The contents should not be construed as, and should not be relied upon for legal advice. The information presented may not reflect the most current legal developments. No action should be taken in reliance on the information presented and AsylumConnect disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken in reliance on the contents herein. An attorney should be contacted for advice on specific legal issues.


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