When your mortality is on the line, how do you convince a government official you’re “gay enough” to be persecuted? In Britain it takes a fellow gay citizen being murdered because of their sexuality to convince immigration officials to let you stay in their country. In the U.S., claims the New York Times in a whopping piece of anecdotal theorizing, it takes convincing immigration officials you’re a big giant queen who will invite gay bashings back in your homeland just by walking out the door.
If you’re not overtly gay, how can you be persecuted? There’s not exactly a litmus test. Which is a catch-22 for some foreign nationals filing asylum claims in the United States, who feel that unless they show up for their in-person interviews in costume (heels and make-up for men; cropped hair and, uh, bulges for women) they are going to be kicked out of the country. Of course more overt expressions of sexuality and gender identity exist with some refugees. But certainly not at all.
Except the group think among immigration attorneys working with queer clients is to play up the outrageous as much as possible. It’s the only way to tip the scale in their favor.
Romulo Castro [pictured] considered attending his asylum interview in Rosedale, Queens, dressed as Fidela Castro, a towering drag queen in six-inch stilettos, a bright green poodle skirt and a mane of strawberry blond hair. In the end, Mr. Castro, 34, opted for what he described as understatement: pink eye shadow, a bright pink V-neck shirt and intermittent outbursts of tears. After years of trying to conceal his sexual orientation back home in Brazil (where Fidela never made an appearance), Mr. Castro had been advised by his immigration lawyer that flaunting it was now his best weapon against deportation. “I was persecuted for being fruity, a boy-girl, a fatso, a faggot — I felt like a monster,” said Mr. Castro, who reported being raped by an uncle at age 12, sexually abused by two police officers, and hounded and beaten by his peers before fleeing to the United States in 2000. “Here, being gay was my salvation. So I knew I had to put on the performance of my life.”
[...] Jhuan Marrero, 18, who was born in Venezuela but has lived — illegally — in New York since he was 4, said the immigration officer at his asylum interview last week challenged him about his macho demeanor. “I was brought up by my parents to walk and talk like a man,” said Mr. Marrero, who volunteers at the Queens Pride House, a gay and lesbian center in Jackson Heights. “The officer said: ‘You’re not a transsexual. You don’t look gay. How are you at risk?’ I insisted that if I was sent back to Venezuela, I would speak out about being gay and suffer the consequences.”
At the very least, American officials aren’t following the Czech Republic’s lead and measuring how hard your dick gets while watching porn to see if you qualify for a safety net. Asylum seekers in the U.S. who claim their LGBT status is the cause of their oppression at home, however, must prove being queer is the problem. How to do that when you’re from a Middle Eastern or African country where there is no such thing as a “hate crime,” where “corrective rape” goes unreported, and where documentation of having a same-sex partner simply doesn’t exist (and would get you killed if it did)?
For all the insistence of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services — whose spokeswoman Chris Rhatigan insists “we don’t say that someone is insufficiently gay or homosexual, whatever that would mean, or that he or she could be saved by hiding his or her homosexuality” — I still have my doubts. Especially because Ms. Ratigan, while noting that being straight or gay “is an immutable characteristic” and “is something an individual can’t or shouldn’t change,” still refers to it as “sexual preference.”
There’s no perfect methodology to sort through all the LGBT-based asylum claims, let alone the 38,000 annual applications the government receives in total each year, to ferret out who is truly deserving and who’s just trying to game the system. But a system that will penalize you for lying, but then encourages you to play up your gayness (and, thus, lie about your true self), can’t be good for anybody.
[photo: Marcus Yam/New York Times]