Connect with us

National

U.S. balks at asylum for gay Saudi diplomat

Attorney says client faces ‘certain’ execution

Published

on

The US Department of Homeland Security issued a preliminary ruling last week withholding political asylum for a gay Saudi diplomat

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a preliminary ruling last week withholding political asylum for a Saudi diplomat whose colleagues discovered he’s gay last year while he was assigned to Saudi Arabia’s consular office in Los Angeles.

The diplomat, Ali Ahmad Asseri, who served as first secretary to the consular office, applied for U.S. asylum in 2010 under a U.S. policy that offers asylum to foreign nationals belonging to a “particular social group,” including gays, who face persecution in their home country.

“It’s not a matter to be taken lightly and I’m sure the U.S. government is not taking it lightly,” said Ally Bolour, an American attorney representing Asseri. “It’s certain death,” he said, if his client is forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

ALSO IN THE BLADE: U.S. SENATOR BLUMENTHAL SEEKS TO AID LESBIAN BI-NATIONAL COUPLE

Bolour noted that gay sex is considered a crime punishable by execution under Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist Islamic law. He said the country’s prosecutors routinely trump up sex-related charges against Saudi gays, effectively making homosexuality itself grounds for execution.

A recent U.S. State Department human rights report on Saudi Arabia says that under the country’s Islamic or Sharia law, consenting sexual relations between people of the same sex is “punishable by death or flogging.”

The DHS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Asseri’s asylum case. DHS has said in the past that it never comments on pending cases. An official at the State Department, which has listed Saudi Arabia among countries that persecute gays, also declined to comment, saying it doesn’t discuss pending cases.

Bolour said that as part of its routine procedure for asylum cases, the DHS referred Asseri’s case to an immigration judge for an automatic appeal. He said he’s hopeful that the judge, on behalf of a special U.S. immigration court, will approve the asylum application. Should the judge deny the application, Asseri will appeal the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Bolour said.

“There’s a process that these things go through,” he said. “It was not approved in the first instance when we applied. Obviously, I think it should have been approved. But it hasn’t been denied and so we’re still on course.”

Bolour declined to provide details on how the Saudi consular office in Los Angeles discovered that Asseri is gay.

LGBT AND MUSLIM GROUPS WORK TOGETHER IN MICHIGAN TO SAVE ANTI-BULLYING LAW FROM RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION

However, he told the Blade that an MSNBC News report in September 2010 that first reported Asseri’s request for U.S. political asylum accurately reported on the details of the case as of a year ago.

According to the MSNBC report, Asseri told the broadcast news outlet that he had worked for the Saudi consular office in L.A. for five years. He told MSNBC that he discovered several months before filing his asylum application that Saudi consulate employees, who suspected he was gay, followed him to gay bars.

“It was sometime after these discoveries, Asseri said, that consulate officials began harassing him, refusing to renew his diplomatic passport or provide him with badly needed medical treatment for a painful back ailment,” MSNBC reported.

Consulate officials also demanded that he return to Saudi Arabia, MSNBC reported.

WEB EXCLUSIVE: VICTORIA JACKSON UPSETS GAYS, MUSLIMS IN NEW VIDEO

“My life is in great danger and if I go back to Saudi Arabia, they will kill me openly in broad daylight,” MSNBC quoted him as saying in September 2010.

News of the DHS preliminary decision to withhold approving Asseri’s asylum application was first reported last week by Saudi American journalist and blogger Rasheed Abou-Alshamh on his blog RasheedsWorld.com.

Abou-Alshamh reported in his blog that a Saudi dissident in Washington named Ali al-Ahmed told him the decision to withhold Asseri’s asylum request was “a political decision by the Obama administration,” which, according to al-Ahmed, is “afraid of upsetting the Saudis.”

In his blog posting, Abou-Alshamh did not disclose al-Ahmed’s source or sources for his claim that the Obama administration orchestrated the withholding of the asylum request based on an alleged desire not to offend Saudi Arabia.

Attorney Bolour called the claim “outrageous” and “ludicrous,” saying the DHS decision to refer the asylum application to an immigration court judge is a routine bureaucratic procedure far removed from the White House or the president.

According to the DHS website, an initial decision on an asylum case is made by an asylum officer with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is an arm of the DHS.

Officials with the LGBGT advocacy groups Lambda Legal and Immigration Equality said they were following the Asseri case even though they were not directly involved. Immigration Equality Legal Director Victoria Neilson said the case was unusual because it’s rare that a diplomat like Asseri applies for U.S. asylum on grounds of anti-gay persecution.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. laurelboy2

    November 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Tough situation for Ali. But, with regards to his conduct, he should have acted here the way he would have had he been in Saudi Arabia. (In fact, their consulate is considered Saudi land.) I doubt, unfortunately, he would have been an “out” man in the Kingdom of Saud, and I know he wouldn’t have been associating with a Jewish woman there. Another example of “look in the mirror for the cause of the problem.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

National

In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries

The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date

Published

on

Governor Jared Polis and 1st Gentleman Marlon Reis exchange vows (Screenshot via CBS News Denver)

DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.

The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.

“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).

In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.

The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.

Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”

Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.

In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.

********************

Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds

Continue Reading

National

U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Joint statement says church teachings support equality

Published

on

More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.

The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.

“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.

“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.

The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.

“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.

“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said. 

DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.

The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.

He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.

Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.

Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”

The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.

Continue Reading

National

Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence

Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick

Published

on

An I Am Human Foundation billboard along Atlanta's Downtown Connector expressway on Feb. 22, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.

For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.

A tribute to Tony McDade in downtown Asheville, N.C., in June 2020. McDade was a Black transgender man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Tallahassee, Fla., on May 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future. 

Uplifting voices often silenced

Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C. 

Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches. 

“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.

Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests. 

“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.

Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community. 

“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick. 

Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.

What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?

The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.

“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”

“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick. 

She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news. 

Jasmyne Cannick (Photo courtesy of Jasmyne Cannick)

Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments. 

“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago. 

Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”

“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.

As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.

The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi. 

“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago. 

“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.

He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles. 

Cannick’s focus is on the Black community. 

“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.

She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces. 

She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils. 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular