Columbia Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Releases Major Report on Country Conditions for LGBT Asylum Seekers from Guyana

Cross-posted to the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law Blog

New York, June 13, 2017–Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic released a comprehensive country conditions report documenting the serious risks LGBT people in Guyana face. The report, Documentation of Country Conditions Regarding the Treatment of Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgender Individuals in Guyana, which can be filed as an index by asylum applicants, documents why LGBT individuals may have a well-founded fear of returning to their country of origin. This evidence is crucial for every LGBT asylum seeker from Guyana, but many available resources are out of date or incomplete. This report remedies that problem by providing up-to-date, comprehensive, and easy-to-access information that can make all the difference in asylum seekers’ applications.

Guyana. Image from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f9/LGBT_flag_map_of_Guyana.svg

As the report shows, Guyanese law criminalizes sexual intimacy between men — with punishment that may include life in prison — and cross-dressing, which renders transgender individuals especially vulnerable throughout Guyanese society. Discrimination and harassment of LGBT individuals also remains rampant, and police and other authorities provide little protection. LGBT individuals are also denied access to health care as a result of the AIDS crisis.

“All asylum applicants need to submit an index of country conditions to corroborate why they are afraid to return to their home country, explained Jackson Dartez ’18, a Clinic student. “However, those who are unrepresented have difficulty gathering these types of sources, which can make or break an asylum claim. The Clinic’s report provides this supporting evidence for asylum seekers from Guyana who have suffered persecution as a result of their LGBT identity, giving them a fairer chance of succeeding in their application.”

The report, which is based on government documents, NGO studies, academic research, media accounts, and the Guyanese criminal code, identifies that LGBT people are persecuted in Guyana in numerous ways, including:

  • The Guyanese government refuses to reform anti-LGBT laws, with officials alternatively claiming that it is unnecessary because they are seldom enforced, and that they are crucial because they represent Guyanese values. However, the laws provide a backdrop against which LGBT individuals in Guyana suffer immensely.
  • The police are frequently at the center of the persecution. LGBT individuals are often the victims of hate crimes, but law enforcement officers typically will not investigate due to anti-gay sentiment and transphobia. Indeed, police extortion of LGBT individuals is common, and the police have been known to encourage violence against LGBT people — including urging inmates to rape LGBT individuals in custody.
  • Societal discrimination against LGBT individuals is widespread. LGBT individuals are verbally and physically harassed when they walk down the street, and ostracized by family members and their communities. The mental health consequences of homophobia and transphobia are extreme. Young LGBT individuals in Guyana are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, a significant number given that Guyana has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Yleana Roman, a staff attorney at Immigration Equality, the country’s leading LGBTQ immigration group, noted that having this information available to asylum seekers is crucial: “Well documented country conditions can make all the difference in ensuring an asylum claim is successful. Creating the report for one asylum seeker helps that person, but by making this widely available, the Clinic is potentially saving the lives of many people.”

The Clinic has distributed the report through Immigration Equality and has made it available for download on the Clinic website. Link to the report directly, here.

The report was prepared by Clinic students Arielle Feldshon ’17, Patti Rothenberg ’18, Arielle Trapp ’18, Carolina Rivas ’18, and Dartez. They worked under the supervision of Suzanne B. Goldberg, director of the Clinic and the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, as well as Marie-Amélie George and Jenny Ma, Clinic supervisors and Associates in Law. Yleana Roman of Immigration Equality also supervised the students in completing this report. The students spent several months reviewing sources on conditions in Guyana as part of a Clinic project to prepare a client’s asylum application, which is still pending. Although the Clinic is representing a gay man, the index also includes information about the persecution of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Guyanese individuals.

Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic addresses cutting-edge issues in sexuality and gender law through litigation, legislation, public policy analysis, and other forms of advocacy. Under Professor Goldberg’s guidance, Clinic students have worked on a wide range of projects to serve both individual and organizational clients in cases involving issues of sexuality and gender law.