In Search of a Better Life, DC Asylum Seekers Battle Bureaucracy
While the fight for same-sex rights in the United States is picking up steam, the plight of gay and transgender people beyond our borders has only recently started to make it into the mainstream news.
In many countries, the social stigma against homosexuality is strong enough that it is incorporated into laws making it punishable by incarceration or, in some cases, death. Under the constant stress and danger of such conditions, many seek asylum in other countries in order to live a normal life.
Prince, age 24, is one such asylum seeker. Prince, who agreed to share his story with the condition that his real name not be used, is a Jamaican citizen who has been seeking asylum in Washington, D.C., since last November.
Within minutes of meeting him, anyone can tell that Prince is a courageous, driven individual focused on advocating on the behalf of others. At his young age, he has championed for several causes and worked with many organizations including the Jamaican Red Cross and the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG).
That courage, whether natural or honed, is almost necessary in a country where some of his former co-workers and volunteers have been murdered and LGBT advocates must operate in clandestine conditions in order to avoid violence.
At a recent Center Global event held in D.C. earlier this year, Prince shared his story in order to raise awareness about the difficulties faced by members of the international LGBT community.
While waiting at a bus stop in Jamaica, Prince was accosted by a man who threatened him while calling him "batty boy," a pejorative Jamaican phrase for homosexual or effeminate men. The scene quickly escalated until Prince was facing a small mob of people wielding improvised weapons intent on killing him.
Had the bus not arrived, it is likely that he may not have been here to share his experience.
"I was literally saved by the bus," said Prince.
Combining bravery and a determination not to remain silent, Prince decided to report the incident to the police, a move that many with a background in international LGBT rights might consider to be an exercise in futility.
"Even if they did nothing, I was determined to do my part," said Prince.
After having to ask for a private room in which to file a report, Prince was interviewed by the greenest officer in the department while officers sang about killing batty boys just on the other side of the door.
If this were not enough, Prince later received a death threat via Facebook. When he tried to report the threat to the police, they demanded that he stand before the entire office to tell his story.
Not long after that, Prince was on a plane to the United States as an asylum seeker.
"The hardest part about seeking asylum was saying goodbye to my mom," said Prince.
"There was a moment after we spoke on the phone where she thought I had hung up. She said, ’Oh my God, I will never see my son again. I can call, but it’s not the same. They have taken my boy away from me."
Immigration Reform Calls for Equal Rights for Same-Sex Binationals
On the heels of a momentous inauguration speech calling for equal rights for LGBT Americans comes some hope for same-sex binational couples residing in the United States.
According to a White House statement, the recently proposed immigration reform legislation "...treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner."
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, known as one of the original co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act, and a host of other U.S. senators joined together last month to urge Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to place a temporary stay on immigration, deportation and claims for permanent resident status cases involving same-sex foreign spouses until the Supreme Court makes a decision on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, set to take place later in the year.
Under DOMA, same-sex spouses do not have access to federal immigration benefits offered to heterosexual couples.
"The Supreme Court will soon have its voice heard on this discriminatory policy that has already been deemed unconstitutional by two federal courts," said Senator Gillibrand in a recent press release.
"In light of those earlier decisions, we must lift the hardship for LGBT families who live in fear of separation based on this antiquated law until the Supreme Court rules.
Regardless of the Court’s ultimate decision, it is well past time for Congress to recognize the marriages of all loving and committed couples and finally put the discriminatory DOMA policy into the dustbin of history."
In Interim, Uncertain Future for LGBT Asylum Seekers
As the political wheels of the United States government slowly turn, both asylum seekers and LGBT binational couples are left on an uncharted isle characterized by anxiety, legal concern and the unknown.
"Be prepared for emotional and physical changes. While we are back home, sometimes we neglect the reality that this will not be an easy or cheap process," said Prince when asked about what advice he’d like to give to others in similar circumstances.
"Be prepared to fight for your life."