Center for American Progress

Protecting Global LGBT Rights with the U.S. Asylum System

Protecting Global LGBT Rights with the U.S. Asylum System

Authors Sharita Gruberg and Rachel West assert that while progress has been made in the United States and other countries, the United States must take steps to make sure that LGBT asylum seekers are not denied lifesaving protections.

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Nearly a decade before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that U.S. laws which criminalize “homosexual conduct” are unconstitutional in the 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, a gay Cuban man won protection in the United States from the persecution he faced in his native land because of his sexual orientation. It was the first time that persecution based on sexual orientation was established as valid grounds for asylum in the United States.

In 1980, U.S. immigration law still excluded lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, people from entering the country under a prohibition on what was termed “sexual deviation.” Despite this ban, Fidel Armando Toboso-Alfonso came to the United States that year as part of the infamous Mariel boatlift, seeking protection from the violence and police harassment he faced in Cuba. Beginning in 1967, the Cuban government maintained a file on Toboso-Alfonso, listing him as a “homosexual,” a criminal offense in Cuba at the time. Every two or three months for 13 years, he received a notice—which referred to him as “Fidel Armando Toboso, a homosexual”—to appear for a hearing. Each hearing involved an invasive physical examination and questions from Cuban officials about his sex life and partners. Frequently, he was detained for days after these hearings without being charged, subjected to verbal and physical abuse, and once sent to a forced labor camp for 60 days.

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