DSSH - Prioritizes Humanity over Humiliation

Would you be able to prove your sexual orientation or gender identity? For many of us, we have pictures of our loved ones, social media accounts filled with LGBTQ news, or a marriage validated by the government. However, for LGBTQ asylum seekers who have often spent a lifetime hiding their identity in fear of persecution, these personal milestones, connections, and memories often don’t exist. How can LGBTQ asylum seekers prove their LGBTQ identity?   

In efforts  to receive LGBTQ asylum, some LGBTQ applicants provide intimate text messages, pictures and videos as proof of their sexual orientation.

During the asylum seeking process, LGBTQ applicants face invasive and loaded questions intended to weed out potential candidates. Questions such as, “Why do you choose to be homosexual when you know it is illegal in your country?” and “Can’t you be discreet about your sexuality and therefore, avoid being noticed as a gay person?” fill stressed asylum seekers with feelings of hopelessness and frustration.

S. Chevlan, a British lawyer who specializes in LGBTQ asylum cases, has developed a more compassionate and reasonable model for determining the sexual orientation and gender identity of applicants. Known as the “Difference, Stigma, Shame, Harm (DSSH) model,” Chevlan’s set of questions is designed to look at the complete biography of an applicant rather than just their sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently, Sweden and New Zealand use the DSSH model to review LGBTQ asylum seekers’ applications for asylum.


For many LGBTQ people, the realization that they were somehow different from others came long before a solid understanding of their own gender identity or sexuality. These experiences may include gender non-conformity such as not being interested in activities typical of their assigned sex, having opposite-sex friends, and exclusion from peer groups. While this background is not inherently indicative of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, it is an experience that is familiar to many LGBTQ people across cultures and shows a sense of isolation and otherness.


After discovering feelings of alienation and divergence from others, LGBTQ asylum seekers often find themselves cut off from their communities. Chevlan cites unaccepting families, a society that shames sexual and gender minorities, and  intolerance from religious groups as common examples of stigmatization. This stigma leads to the recognition that the applicant is not accepted by society and others disapprove of their identity.


Once they recognize this pervasive stigma, LGBTQ asylum seekers experience a sense of shame. Many realize  that they belong to a group outside of society’s norms, and struggle with feelings of alienation and otherness.


In order to successfully receive asylum, LGBTQ asylum seekers must prove that they have a well-founded fear of persecution and are unable to receive proper protection from their home country. This harm is the result of society’s stigmatization and may take place on the personal or state level. On the personal level, the risk of harm often comes from one’s own family, neighbors, or peers. Acts of personal harm include honor killings, corrective rape, and mob violence. Harm from the state may be present in countries where legal or de facto laws against LGBTQ people exist. State harm includes arrest, detention, torture and even  the death penalty.

The process of applying for asylum should be the gateway to an authentic and free identity for persecuted LGBTQ people. If the U.S. wishes to provide LGBTQ asylum seekers with safety, it must begin by reforming its own application process. DSSH provides a review model for LGBTQ asylum applicants, which restores humanity and fairness to a group that too often has been stripped of self-determination and made vulnerable.


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