Document Type

Honors Paper


Ariella Rotramel

Publication Date



Since 1990 when formal immigration exclusion based on sexual orientation ended in the United States, gay men have been seeking protection from persecution in the form of asylum. While it is a sign of progress that asylum protections have been broadened to include those facing persecution based on their sexual orientation, my research into gay men's asylum cases demonstrates that the asylum system persists in systematically discriminating against queer people by putting them in a double bind: if they are not considered to be "recognizably gay" by the courts, they are deemed not open to persecution and thus denied asylum; meanwhile if they are openly gay and participate in activities associated with the queer community, they are considered to blame for putting themselves at risk. Given the biopolitical goal of the state to mitigate threats to its population and maintain control over national boundaries, determining the authenticity and innocence of asylum seekers becomes a focus of asylum adjudication, especially for gay applicants. The courts have operationalized the notion of an “authentic gay victim” against which applicants are measured. However, this figure is an idealized and virtually unattainable goal, as it was built on misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding gender and sexual orientation and is accompanied by a resistance to viewing gay men as innocent victims. Homophobic bias and the devaluing of queer and/or criminalized lives continue to pervade asylum, resulting in a system that does not take seriously the experiences of gay men who have survived homophobic persecution. A major shift in how the state conceptualizes which lives are worthy of protection is necessary in order to ensure that the asylum works not as an exclusionary mechanism, but as a system that ensures everyone has the right to a future free from violence.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.