Stronger Together: A Guide to Supporting LGBT Asylum Seekers
Last week, I had the privilege of joining the National LGBTQ Task Force at a press conference focused on announcing the publication of a new guide to support LGBTQ asylum seekers. The new guide, published by the National LGBTQ Task Force in partnership with the LGBT Freedom and Asylum Network (LGBT-FAN) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), is titled Stronger Together: A Guide to Supporting LGBT Asylum Seekers. This new report provides crucial advice and guidance to service providers working with LGBT asylum seekers coming to the United States in search of better and safer lives.
Every year, untold thousands of LGBTQ people flee from persecution directed at them because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity–or because they support someone who is LGBTQ. While progress has been made in the U.S. on some LGBTQ issues, there are still at least 75 countries that criminalize LGBTQ people, including Russia, Nigeria, Honduras, Iran and many more. These people are forced to leave their home countries, families, and friends in order to protect their own lives and the lives of the people they love. It is outrageous that people around the world must make such a horrendous choice simply for being who they are, but even if they make it to the United States successfully, many will still face significant challenges in seeking asylum.
The challenges can be considerable. Most LGBTQ asylum seekers are restricted from any kind of government assistance when they arrive to the United States because they lack U.S. citizenship. Around 72% are in need of housing in the U.S. and 84% don’t have enough money for food, travel, and other living expenses. Since the government is not allowed to help these asylum seekers, many of them resort to community churches in order to receive aid, where some may face even more discrimination due to homophobia. Furthermore, some asylum seekers report experiencing racism for the first time once they arrive in the United States, and some asylum seekers hide their true identity because they do not want to risk losing their aid due to their LGBTQ identity. For all these reasons, many asylum seekers, having fled persecution in their home countries, find themselves still living in despair within the United States.
Even if asylum seekers are able to obtain assistance for their basic food and housing, many find it difficult to obtain jobs that would allow them to become self-sufficient. Most asylum seekers want to work so they can better their living situation in the U.S, but are not allowed to work because of their lack of U.S. citizenship or work permit authorization. In order for an asylum seeker to request residency, they must first file their case for asylum. After that, they are forced to wait 150 days to be eligible to apply for work authorization, and then must wait an additional 30-90 days to get their authorization approved. Though many organizations try to guide and support asylum seekers throughout this lengthy and complex process, there is often too little money and training for these aid workers. The hope is that the information in the Stronger Together: A Guide to Supporting LGBT Asylum Seekers will provide service providers with sufficient information to help them adequately support LGBTQ asylum seekers in these types of cases.
Although we must continue to fight against the cruelty and violence many LGBTQ people face around the world, we should also work to ensure that LGBTQ asylum seekers receive the support they deserve once they arrive in the U.S. We encourage any organization that wants to take part in assisting with this important cause, to read and follow the advice in the Stronger Together guide. There is a lot of work to be done, but together we can have a positive impact.
by Alan Lopez, Communications Intern