HRC Blog

Government Trains Officers Working with LGBTI Asylum Seekers

The Department of Homeland Security today released new comprehensive training for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers handling asylum claims by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex refugees. 

In the past, LGBTI refugees, who were escaping persecution in another country based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, often faced hostile and invasive questioning based on stereotypes about LGBTI people when they were interviewed by USCIS officers.  In fact, because many of the questions USCIS officers asked LGBTI refugees were based in stereotypes, some LGBTI refugees were not provided asylum.

The materials released today will equip officers working with asylum seekers with the definitions and appropriate questions necessary to conduct sensitive and respectful interviews.  Officers will also be provided with specific instructions about questions to avoid, including unnecessarily demeaning questions related to specific sexual practices.  The guidance introduction acknowledges that  “Interviews with LGBTI or HIV-positive refugee and asylum applicants require the individual ‘to discuss some of the most sensitive and private aspects of human identity and behavior’ – sexual orientation, gender identity and life-threatening illness.”

The guidance provides officers with basic instructions for confronting complex issues including that LGBTI cultural norms in a refugee’s home country may differ from the officer’s understanding of LGBTI identity and expression.  LGBTI applicants are not required to meet any pre-conceived stereotypes to “look gay” or behave in a certain way in order to gain asylum. 

The guidance also provides a non-exhaustive list of possible exceptions to the existing one-year filing deadline, which often makes it difficult to pursue asylum after one year of presence in the United States.  These can include, recently “coming out” as LGBTI; recent steps to transition from birth gender to corrected gender; a recent HIV diagnosis; post-traumatic stress disorder; or severe family opposition to an applicant’s identity.

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