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A tipping point for LGBTQ+ forced migration

War Refugees walking through cornfield
Ajdin Kamber/Shutterstock

The U.S. asylum and refugee programs are a lifeline for LGBTQ+ individuals facing danger abroad. But LGBTQ+ Americans, especially transgender individuals, are increasingly seeking safety within our own borders, writes InReach's Jamie Sgarro.

The U.S.'s asylum and refugee resettlement programs have long served as lifelines for international members of our LGBTQ+ community, with many facing mortal danger for simply existing in other countries. I will never forget the first message my organization received from abroad. The sender wrote in detail about being trapped in a country where LGBTQ+ people are still criminalized and their desperation to reach the United States for a chance at safety. They described social ostracism, impending risk of imprisonment, death threats, and daily violence due to their identity. Over the past ten years, reading numerous messages like this has profoundly shaped my understanding of and appreciation for U.S. asylum and refugee status.

I also remember the first message from a trans-American seeking relocation assistance within the United States.

It was startlingly reminiscent of earlier messages, catching me off guard: the sender shared their fear for their lives, their desperation to move somewhere safer, and their hope to live freely without discrimination.

But instead of being oceans apart from me, this person was just a few hours away.

As anti-trans legislation has increased nationwide, such messages have become more frequent, underscoring the crisis of trans safety within our own country's borders. All of this indicates a tipping point for LGBTQ+ forced migration: hostile legislation is shrinking where it is safe for trans people in the United States, creating 'American trans refugees' within our own borders. At the same time, trans people escaping countries where their identity is criminalized and punished continue to turn to the U.S. for refuge.

It is worth noting that trans Americans are unlikely—at least for now—to secure asylum abroad.

A successful asylum claim typically requires the claimant to demonstrate their entire home country is 'unsafe' for them, not just a particular region. For example, in February, Canada's federal courtoverturned a decision granting refugee status to an American transgender woman, citing the belief that she could relocate to a safer place within the United States. This case highlights the urgency of confronting the widespread disparities in access to safety that exist for trans people in different states within our own nation.

Addressing these inequities is crucial not only for trans Americans but for all trans people who have fled persecution. It is critical to acknowledge that 'trans refugees,' in the traditional sense, are also being harmed by the United States' current surge in anti-trans bills and rhetoric.

Consider the trans refugee who fled imprisonment and torture in her home country and resettled in a 'red' state. Here, she has built a new community and has finally begun to feel at home, only now to face being uprooted again due to legislation targeting her trans identity. Like many trans people living in hostile states, she cannot afford to leave everything behind and relocate to a 'blue' state. As a result, in what should be her safe haven, she now faces restricted access to gender-affirming care, denied the use of bathrooms and facilities consistent with her gender identity in public, and is regularly exposed to local legislators who question her humanity. On top of this, she is forced to continue navigating the United States' complex immigration system while facingan epidemic of violence as a trans woman of color.

She and other trans refugees, alongside trans Americans like myself, are all depending on the United States to protect trans rights.

As we acknowledge World Refugee Day, let us pledge to defeat theover 330 active anti-trans bills currently pending across our nation for all who courageously live in their truth, believing in the land held as the sanctuary for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Jamie Sgarro is the co-founder and executive director ofInReach (fka AsylumConnect).

Voices is dedicated to featuring a wide range of inspiring personal stories and impactful opinions from the LGBTQ+ and Allied community. Visit Advocate.com/submit to learn more about submission guidelines. We welcome your thoughts and feedback on any of our stories. Email us at voices@equalpride.com. Views expressed in Voices stories are those of the guest writers, columnists and editors, and do not directly represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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