The Big Ideas of 2013

This year, 'ex-gay' therapy took a major hit, Russia became a scary place for LGBT people, and tons of people fantasized about what they'd be like in prison.

BY Michelle Garcia

December 18 2013 12:47 AM ET

This year was undoubtedly a banner year for LGBT people in the U.S., as the Supreme Court struck down part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and people came out all over the Internet. But so many events that captured headlines and eyeballs had a larger context than bite-size chunks typically relegated to Year in Review types of news recaps. Here we look at the big ideas that captivated us in 2013 and how they will drive what happens next year.

 

Immigration Is an LGBT Issue
For nearly five decades, anyone applying for a green card in the U.S., would be required to disclose whether they were a "sexual deviant." If the person's answer was "yes," the applicant would not be welcome in the States. While that question was dropped from the green card application, it wasn't until this year that the Supreme Court's decision striking down a section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act made it possible for immigrants in same-sex couples and their families to enter the U.S. just like their straight counterparts.

Still, this doesn't mean that the work is done on immigration.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, says that while her organization receives many more happy phone calls than it did a year ago, requests for asylum are still increasing. In fact, since Russia instituted its notorious so-called gay propaganda law in the summer, the number of requests for asylum in the United States from Russia and former Soviet nations has increased by 366%.

"For so long, our number 1 country for asylum had been Jamaica, we have an enormous number of people from Jamaica who are fleeing terrible antigay persecution," Tiven says. "We knew that the situation was bad when Russia knocked Jamaica out of line in our monthly hotline intake statistics."

The problems for LGBT immigrants don't stop there. Tiven says that detentions and deportations have skyrocketed during the Obama administration, putting vulnerable populations at risk of violence, harassment, and extreme treatment.

"More people have been detained without a lawyer in the last few years, than in the last 100 years combined," she says. "We have an epidemic of detention and deportation. Applies to many many people, but the vulnerability of LGBTs particularly transgender immigrants in detention, is unfortunately unique and extreme."

National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling says that the attempts to improve detention conditions for transgender women and gay men, in particular, have been largely inadequate. After a meeting with a senior immigration detention official, Keisling says she was shocked to learn the conditions most transgender women and gay men were subjected to.

"One of the things that happens is that when a gay man or a transgender person goes to detention, they go to solitary confinement automatically, because of this misguided understanding that, 'Oh, we can't put them in with the general population,'" Keisling says. "And so we had this moment where this [detention official] says, 'Well, we've reduced the problem because we've gotten it down from more than 100 days to 28 days.' But even then, science — the psychological, and medical field — sees this as torture. And then his assistant says, 'Actually, that's true for everyone except gay men and trans women. For them it's nine and a half months.'"

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