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Asian LGBT Community: We've Been Here Before With the Muslim Ban


Asian-Americans are familiar with our nation's history of travel bans, which included Chinese immigrants and anyone with HIV. This latest ban is just as horrible.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Donald Trump's third iteration of his anti-Muslim travel ban. The ban, issued by executive order, bars people from certain majority Muslim countries from coming to the United States. It has been struck down by two lower courts. Now it is to be heard before the Supreme Court.

LGBT Asian/South Asian groups submitted an amicus ("friend of the court") brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down the ban. The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) spearheaded the brief illustrating the impact of Trump's travel ban on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

The lower court cited our brief and the impact the ban had on LGBT people as a reason to strike it down. Now it is time for the Supreme Court to exercise the same wisdom. Trump's anti-Muslim travel ban has a direct impact on the lives of LGBT people and tears families apart. Egregiously, the defense relies on some of the legal theories that supported the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. We've been here before. In 1987, President Regan instituted an anti-HIV travel ban. In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court banned homosexuals because they were persons of "bad moral character." In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese from immigrating to the United States.

The amicus brief details the oppressive conditions for LGBT people living in the countries named in the travel ban, where homosexuality is criminalized and LGBT people are persecuted. The brief explains how Trump's ban prevents LGBT people in those countries from joining their families and loved ones in the United States, increasing their exposure to persecution in their home countries. The brief argues that the ban deprives U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of their constitutionally-protected liberty and interests in maintaining familial relationships with their loved ones whose safety is jeopardized by their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Because the ban's narrow -- and legally required -- exceptions lack meaningful rules guaranteeing equal treatment of LGBT visa applicants, Trump's travel ban disproportionately denies LGBT people the ability to reunite with their loved ones in the United States.

Co-signers include seven LGBTQ South Asian and Asian Pacific Islander organizations across the country join as co-amici to sign on to the brief: API Equality-Los Angeles, API Equality-Northern California, Invisible to Invincible, Asian Pacific Islander Pride of Chicago, KhushDC, Massachusetts Area South Asian Lambda Association, Queer South Asian Collective, South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association of New York City, Trikone Northwest. As well as the NYC Gay & Lesbian Anti Violence Project; Immigration Equality; LGBT bar associations in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles; and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders in Boston.

We want to urge everyone to remember we've been here before. Here's the ugly American history of past travel bans:

Anti-Chinese Travel Ban
In 1882, Congress adopted and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first piece of federal legislation that singled out a minority group for invidious discrimination and barred their entry. It was not until 1943 that Chinese people could naturalize to become U.S. citizens. The Act was passed after many Chinese people had built the transcontinental railroad which unified the United States East and West.

Anti-LGBT Travel Ban
From 1952 to 1990, LGBT people were excluded from the U.S. because they were deemed to be of "psychopathic personality." The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law and its application to homosexuals. Lower courts further denied the naturalization of LGBT immigrants because they were persons of "bad moral character."

Anti-HIV Travel Ban
From 1987 to 2010, President Reagan issued an Executive Order, which President Bush extended, barring people with AIDS or who were HIV-positive from entering the United States. Congress then codified the HIV+ exclusion into federal law in 1993. It was not until 2010, under President Obama, when the travel restriction was eliminated.

Anti-Muslim Travel Ban
Trump issued an executive order preventing people from six majority Muslim counties (Syria, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia) and nearly all refugees from entering the United States.

The South Asian and LGBT communities urge the Supreme Court to strike down the Muslim travel ban, once and for all. Visit to learn more.

GLENN MAGPANTAY is the executive director of The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance.

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