Canada issues guidelines for LGBTQ Asylum claims

by James Stout, San Diego, Ca , USA

One of the things that makes the LGBTQ+ minority so easy to ignore is that it is not visible. LGBTQ+ people are not all one colour, they do not all speak one language and they can’t all be found in one place. Heck, they don’t even all call themselves the same thing! This issue is one that Canadian immigration officials have come up against when they process asylum claims based on discrimination on grounds of sexuality or gender identity. In response to this, a series of guidelines were recently issued to check the veracity of the claims made by refuges who say they are LGBTQ+.

05 May, 2017

Last week I wrote about the situation in Chechnya and the attempts by a Canadian group, Rainbow Railroad, to extract gay men from the province before they fell into the hands of repressive and violent homophobic authorities or, worse yet, fell victim to honour killings from their own families. One of the goals of the group is to get people to a country where they can claim asylum and start a new life, however the countries accepting such refugees wish to verify that the people claiming to be facing persecution really are LGBTQ+.

The guidelines state that “Questioning an individual about their SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression) can feel intrusive and may be difficult for the individual concerned. Questioning should be done in a sensitive, nonconfrontational manner. Open-ended questions should be employed where appropriate.” They continue that “the guideline’s intended goal is to promote a greater understanding of the diversity and complexity of the situation of individuals with diverse SOGIE; establish guiding principles for decision-makers in adjudicating cases involving them; and provide parties with a clearer understanding as to what to expect when appearing before the IRB (institutional review board)”. Clearly this is a big issue, about 13% of claims of asylum relate to SOGIE and these claims have a higher rate of approval than the average.

The guidelines have been issued in response to claims that too often adjudicators rely on outdated or untrue stereotypes of LGBTQ+ people. They include the message that adjudicators that they should not assume LGBTQ+ people:

• Have feminized or masculinized appearances or mannerisms;
• Share the same dynamics and characteristics across cultures;
• Have had same-sex sexual experiences or relations;
• Have refrained from heterosexual sexual experiences or having children;
• Would actively participate in LGBTQ culture in Canada, including frequenting gay-predominant areas and social establishments or join community groups.

These are excellent starting points and will hopefully make the process more just and fair. As we see an increasing amount of homophobia from Moscow, and perhaps a reduced feeling of an obligation to help people coming from Washington DC, this issue is only going to be become broader and more pressing. I am interested in the perspective of our audience. What would you put on your guidelines and why? Furthermore, if you had to leave your home due to persecution where would you go?