Saraswati, a transsexual woman who was arrested in August in
San Francisco and faced immediate deportation to her
native Indonesia, has won the right for her asylum
case to be reopened, according to a September 20
ruling by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals.
who has been held in the Santa Clara County jail since her
arrest, is an architect who came to San Francisco on a
temporary work visa that expired 2001. Under the name
Michael Setiabudi she then applied for asylum based on
the violence and persecution she faced as an
effeminate gay man. The application and subsequent appeal
were both denied by the Board of Immigration, and
Seitabudi decided to stay in the United States.
In the interim,
according to a sworn statement, Seitabudi "started
thinking more about the fact that I have always identified
as a very feminine person. I also started to realize
that I was actually not very attracted to gay men or
comfortable in gay male relationships, and found
myself much more attracted to heterosexual men." She
medically and legally transitioned to Michelle
Saraswati under the guidance of the Tom Waddell Clinic
beginning in 2005.
As her original
asylum case was based on sexual orientation,
Saraswati's only hope for reopening her case
was to argue that her situation had changed
drastically as a transsexual woman.
"It is a
traditional asylum case, but with unusual facts,"
said Saraswati's attorney Zach Nightingale.
"It's not true to say that transgender
asylum is legally novel, but we do need to make a case to
the judge and explain why transgender people in
Indonesia really have reason to be afraid. The case
isn't over by any means. There is a role for
transgender women in Indonesia, which makes this case
factually interesting, but that doesn't mean a
professional educated architect can function in her
normal life there."
transsexuals do have a role in Indonesian society (known as
warias), they are limited to jobs in the
entertainment or service sectors, usually as hairdressers
Muslim men hit the warias and throw rocks at
them," Saraswati told The Bay Area
Reporter. "I also saw how common it was for the
men to sexually assault the warias by grabbing
at their bodies without their consent. It is widely
believed that there is nothing wrong with men grabbing a
waria's body. If I am forced to go back, I
know that I will be treated as the other warias
are--beaten and sexually assaulted with no one
to protect me." Saraswati is also Catholic, which makes her
an even more vulnerable target in the predominantly
and allies have been responsible for most of
Saraswati's legal fees, and those interested in
contributing or finding out further information can
send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. (The