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As the public health emergency ends, a humanitarian crisis begins for LGBTQ asylum seekers

Title 42 ended on May 11

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The Rio Grande between Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, on Jan. 14, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

LGBTQIA+ people from around the world who come to the U.S. Southern border seeking safety from escalating discrimination and violence are now met with an impossible new system that denies us our human rights. Under Title 42, we struggled to find pathways from persecution in our home countries. When it was lifted on May 11, Biden replaced it with an asylum ban that forces us to stay in unsafe conditions while we try, and fail, to make an appointment on an app that does not work.

A gay asylum seeker myself, I experienced first-hand the challenges of proving my worthiness of protection under Title 42. Homosexuality is criminalized in a third of the world’s countries, forcing LGBTQIA+ people to face violence, harassment and discrimination, sometimes from our own government authorities. The Title 42 policy launched at the beginning of the COVID emergency prevented us from making an asylum case properly, leaving us in a state of vulnerability and without the protection we desperately needed. We faced increasing risks as we navigated detention or processing centers and were forced to return to countries where our lives were in danger.

I am now the client services manager at Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazon, where we coordinate legal services for thousands of LGBTQIA+ people fleeing danger, like I once did. Every day, I see how Biden’s new asylum ban makes pleading such claims nearly impossible. One of our clients, Mario, poses the perfect example. 

Mario, a gender non-conforming Guatemalan asylum seeker from the Maya Qʼeqchiʼ community, carries on their late father’s legacy as a traditional herbal medicine expert and human rights advocate. In March 2022, they organized peaceful protests against the country’s homophobic “protection of life and family” bill, which was later passed by the Guatemalan Congress. However, their involvement led to persecution and torture by government-affiliated leaders, who accused them of witchcraft. Expelled from their community under indigenous “laws,” Mario sought refuge within Guatemala but faced ongoing persecution. Surviving two firearm assassination attempts, they fled to the United States’ Southern border to seek asylum.

Arriving at the Matamoros-Brownsville International Bridge, Mario exercised their rights under international law to express their intent to seek asylum directly to a Customs and Border Control asylum officer, the proper process before the U.S. government introduced the notoriously glitchy CBP One app earlier this year. Introduced to create an “orderly” means of arguing an exemption to Title 42, the app instead created yet another barrier to accessing asylum. Instead of accepting their declaration, the officer instructed them to use the app to make an appointment wherein they would check a box claiming they were exempt from the Title 42 public health emergency, and receive an appointment to tell their story and hopefully receive parole so they could begin the asylum process.

Mario managed to get access to a smartphone, but their limited literacy and unfamiliarity with technology posed challenges. The app failed to recognize their darker complexion during the photo capture process, as it did with numerous asylum seekers. Still, Mario did not give up: They struggled to secure an appointment every day, fearing their inability to verify their identity or meet the app’s listed vulnerabilities would hinder their right to request asylum. After 90 days of unsuccessful attempts and increasing dangers in Matamoros, they finally could not wait any longer and chose to instead risk crossing the hazardous river near the International Bridge to enter the U.S. They were intercepted by CBP and processed. Following a 72-hour case review, Mario received one-year parole, enabling them to pursue their asylum case in a safer environment. 

If this new asylum ban had been in place, Mario would not be here today. They would have to prove that they had first sought asylum in Mexico, or figure out how to use an app that is not available in their language, or simply be forced to remain in a place where they had received numerous threats on their life. And had they attempted to cross, they would be deported “home” to a country that is notoriously hostile to LGBTQIA+ people, especially those with darker skin, and prohibited from seeking asylum in the U.S. again for five years. 

This is now how asylum law works. Under existing asylum procedures that have been the law of the land since 1980, when Title 42 lifted on May 11, Mario should have just been able to walk up to an asylum officer and plead credible fear of harm based on their membership in a persecuted group. However, instead, the Biden administration pushed through critical, harsh changes to how asylum seekers on our southern border can seek protection, directly endangering our community and our lives.

It is not too late for the Biden administration to ensure that the new asylum rule does not exclude or discriminate against LGBTQIA+ people seeking protection in the United States. First, the administration should train immigration officials on the specific challenges facing our community, including understanding the laws and situations facing LGBTQIA+ people in different countries; this will guarantee a fair and appropriate evaluation in each individual case, and will avoid the perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudices that can lead to wrong decisions. Second, the administration must put mechanisms in place to provide legal advice and emotional support to people in our community seeking asylum, as we often face additional barriers due to our sexual orientation or gender identity. Third, the administration must fulfill its promise to create alternative pathways for people at imminent risk of harm, including our community members fleeing oppression.

The LGBTQIA+ community deserves an asylum system in the U.S. that recognizes and protects our fundamental human rights. Only then can we build an asylum system that reflects our values of equality and justice for all.

Estuardo Cifuentes is the client services manager at Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazon.

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Trans rights have reached a crisis point

We should fear DeSantis more than Trump

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Michael Knowles speaks at CPAC. (Screen capture via Vimeo)

Trans rights have reached a crisis point. There’s no other way to say it. 

On March 4, CPAC speaker Michael Knowles plainly stated that “if [transgenderism] is false, then for the good of society, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely – the whole preposterous ideology.”

To liken transness as a mere ideology is problematic on many different counts, but that paled in comparison to Knowles’s need for us to be eradicated. Eradication rhetoric is a genocidal tool, to ask and plead for an entire subpopulation to go away in one fell swoop is murderous and brutal. Genocides begin with this kind of rhetoric, then escalate to dangerous politicians being elected to office, then escalate even more to harsh policy, then escalate yet again when those harsh policies force humans to have to do many things — be locked in a cage, move out of the country, or even detransition, in this case. 

Look no further than what happened at the southern border during Trump’s years in office, when images of migrants and their children surfaced at maximum security facilities, lying on the floor with nothing but a meager blanket and barbed wire surrounding their bodies. 

Indeed, a lot of the CPAC conference was dedicated to engaging in these culture wars — but Knowles’s statement of eradication goes beyond the normal cultural bickering. This is why trans politics are at a dangerous turning point. 

Adding to this chaos are bathroom bills and sports policies that prevent trans high schoolers from accessing the bathroom they need, or playing on the right side of their sports team. 

In conversations with professionals, academics, and friends, I like to mention the fact that Republicans take peoples’ rights away when they notice that those people have gained more freedom. Think of it this way: when I was in high school, in 2010, far fewer trans people were out with their identities. Transness didn’t take a center stage in culture — be it on the left or on the right. And as a result, trans students were only attacked by bullies and in locker rooms, not by state politicians. 

But the rise of Gen Z has witnessed many high schoolers now flouting gender norms, going by nonbinary pronouns, and being proud of their gender variance. Moreover, society is filled with many more trans models and celebrities. When our presence becomes celebrated and known, Republicans will then take the necessary tools to push us back into the closet. 

What’s adding to the concern is the rise of smarter Republican candidates for the 2024 election who have exactly the same feelings of Trump but with higher intellects. Ron DeSantis is an example of a presidential contender who mirrors Trump’s bigotry and policies but is far more targeted and intelligent in his approach to public speaking and politics. Indeed, Democrats should be more afraid of DeSantis than of Trump. 

On an end note, I like to summon an old saying by the late Martin Luther King. “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” No matter how much cruelty Republicans will put us through, they won’t succeed in the long run. More and more of society is catching up to the fact that trans people deserve respect and fairness. There will come a day when we have to sigh less and less about the state of our rights. 

Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a trans man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Amend is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.

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The ‘Find Out’ generation: A new generation for a new America

We are willing to face down the forces of status quo

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(Photo by Ben Gingell/Bigstock)

In an op-ed I wrote in April entitled “On Gun Violence, the New Generation Will Not Be Silenced,” I wrote about Tennessee State Representative Justin Thomas and Justin Pearson being expelled from the Tennessee Legislature.

Since then, both have been reinstated by local county governing boards that sent them back to the legislature unanimously. Let’s recall they and the remaining legislator Gloria Johnson’s “crime,” was deciding enough was enough by protesting against gun violence on the legislative floor. The national support they have received since then has been enormous. 

Similarly, in Montana, Zooey Zephyr, the first transgender legislator there, was silenced by the Republican majority legislature there, being censured (prevented from public speaking) for saying there would be “blood on the hands” of members that voted on an anti-trans piece of legislation.

Zephyr and the “Tennessee Three,” as they’ve come to be called, are part of a new generation of leaders in America, or the “find out” generation that won’t settle for business as usual and are willing to face down the forces of status quo that want to maintain a system built on White supremacy and assimilation. 

They follow a lineage of resistance of those willing to cause “good trouble,” as the late Congressman John Lewis once said. As the former head of the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee in the 60s, Lewis was arrested multiple times and was part of the Tennessee sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. (He would later, in 2016, bring Congressional House proceedings to a halt in a protest against gun violence.)

Justin Jones himself has been arrested 13 times for non-violent protest and jokes that one of the reasons he ran for the state legislature is that “members of the Tennessee Legislature can’t be arrested,” which is true, at least while in session. But Justin’s arrests are part of the tradition of the civil rights movement in the South. Tennessee was indeed the home resistance. 

In May of 1960, over 150 students were arrested by the police for attempting to desegregate lunch counters in downtown Nashville. During the trial, the students, including Diane Nash, were defended by a group of 13 lawyers, headed by Z. Alexander Looby, a Black lawyer from the British West Indies, whose house was later bombed by segregationists. Looby and his wife were thankfully unharmed.

Later that day, 3,000 protesters marched to Nashville City Hall to confront Mayor Ben West to demand something be done about the violence. He agreed the lunch counters should be desegregated but that it should be up to the store managers.

The city later reached an agreement to desegregate numerous stores before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited desegregation altogether. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. later came to Nashville, saying he “did not come to bring inspiration, but to find it.” 

Meanwhile, in Montana, Zooey Zephyr, the first transgender state legislator in Montana, follows in the footsteps of early LGBT activists/officeholders like the late Harvey Milk of San Francisco. Zephyr’s courageous stance against a majority of the legislature who voted for an anti-trans bill prohibiting gender-affirming healthcare for minors resulted in Zephyr being censured and prohibited from giving speeches on the House floor. Since then, there has been a tremendous national backlash against such fascist tactics both there and in Tennessee. 

As we look ahead to Junteenth and Pride next month, Jones, Pearson, and Zephyr are visible symbols of the rise of a new generation coming up, the “find out” generation that refuses to accept the status quo and who is willing to put everything on the line to face injustice in the name of service to their communities.

Whether it is gun violence, housing, or hate, leadership like this will create the multigenerational, intersectional leadership we need at the local, state, and federal levels in the Halls of Congress to bring about solutions to the issues we have been facing. To create a new America that works for everyone. And I’m here for it. 

A millennial based in Los Angeles, Steve Dunwoody is a veteran, college educator, and community advocate.

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Pride month should be every month

Let’s not keep supportive CEOs and LGBTQ police out of our parades

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I find it interesting we celebrate our Pride only one month a year. I take pride in being gay all year long. I am not opposed to celebrations in June; parades and festivals are great fun. I appreciate Capital Pride naming me a Pride Hero in 2016. Those magnetic signs decorating the convertible I rode in, now adorn my refrigerator. But for me Pride in being gay is something I have all year long.

It took me many years to feel that way. I was 34 when I finally came out, sharing who I was with others. One of the factors keeping me in the closet as a young person was the desire to run for public office. That wasn’t possible as an openly gay man, even where I grew up in New York City. It was only moving to Washington, D.C., away from family and childhood friends, that finally focused me on my true self, allowing me to come to grips with who I was, a gay man.

In 1978, D.C. was a place people could feel comfortable taking those first steps toward coming out. Many people were away from their family and old friends, ready to take a step into their own reality. You could go to a bar like Rascals in Dupont Circle, meet congresspersons, congressional staff, government officials, non-profit and business CEOs, teachers and reporters, all still in the closet and not afraid they would be outed. Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, before AIDS, many of us were still in the closet.

Thankfully, there were some who were not. In the 1978 D.C. mayoral race, won by Marion Barry, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the gay Democratic club in D.C., played a major role in his victory. Barry openly thanked them. He was a four-term mayor who supported the LGBTQ community. It wasn’t until the end of his career, when he was a Council member from Ward 8, that he came out against gay marriage. I remember how jarring it was for so many when he stood on Freedom Plaza with some homophobic ministers, and told us he opposed our right to marry. But he was the anomaly in D.C. The work of activists over the years, I was proud to be one of them, won. The D.C. Council passed marriage equality.

In today’s troubling times the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, the African-American community, and all minorities, are at risk. With white supremacy on the rise, and anti-Semitism once again rearing its ugly head, it’s important to celebrate our Pride all year long. I want every month to be a Pride month, so people in Florida will know they cannot deprive us of our rights, or erase us from their schools. So, a young boy or girl in Mississippi or Montana, who struggle with who they are, and who they love, will be able to see they are great and loved, and can live their life fully, and safely, being their true self.

I hope by the time we celebrate World Pride in D.C. in 2025, inviting the world in to see who the United States really is, we can be proud of who we are. Today that is not the case in many ways. I want a transgender person to come to the United States for World Pride and feel comfortable, not only on the streets of D.C., but anywhere in our country. I want us to be able to show off and say, here you are safe. I want the feeling I had, as a privileged white cisgender man, coming out safely in D.C., to be the feeling everyone has. To do that we will have to fight not only homophobia, but racism, and sexism. It is all interconnected and we must recognize that and join hands, if we are to be successful. While today in D.C. we have African-American Pride, Transgender Pride, Youth Pride, and Latino Pride, maybe we can all join together for World Pride. Let us have pride in each other, as well as ourselves. Let us have that pride every month, every day, and every hour, all year long.

We can do this and still have fun in June. Let’s not keep LGBTQ police, and military, out of our parades. Let us be as proud of them, as they are of themselves. Let us invite the corporate entities that support us. I would be proud to march with Disney CEO Robert Iger. We will only make progress if we do so together.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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