The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows immigrant survivors of domestic violence to self-petition for legal status in the United States without relying on their abusive U.S. citizen spouses to sponsor their adjustment of status (i.e., “green card”) applications. VAWA self-petitioners must prove that they are persons of “good moral
Nearly six years after our pro bono client first filed his asylum application, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) finally granted him asylum in the United States. Our client is a gay man living with HIV who fled Uzbekistan because he had suffered anti-gay violence and feared he would…
Transgender and nonbinary individuals are often among the most marginalized communities we serve as pro bono lawyers. In the US and abroad, transgender and nonbinary people have faced a history of discrimination in employment and housing, unequal access to healthcare, and violence. Indeed, as the Human Rights Campaign has reported,…
On June 24, 2021, the Governor of New York signed into law the Gender Recognition Act, and Proskauer employees came together in celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride Month to support transgender equality and inclusion in all areas of public life.
With special guest speakers Chris Mosier of Transathlete.com and Sasha Buchert of Lambda Legal, Proskauer associate Ren Morris and Craig Convissar of The LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York (LeGaL) led a conversation about the recent wave of state-level anti-transgender legislation, much of which has targeted transgender youth.
In 2014, I had the privilege of representing two extraordinary young asylum seekers who had fled from Macedonia, where, because they are a gay couple, they had suffered extreme homophobic violence and sexual abuse at the hands of civilians and police officers. In 2021, I had the honor of helping them become U.S. citizens.
In reflecting on my clients’ seven-year journey to United States citizenship, I am reminded of how much has changed, but also how much has unfortunately remained the same and how far we have yet to go in the pursuit of LGBTQ human rights both at home and abroad.
The first of my two Macedonian clients arrived in the U.S. in 2012, and the second client joined him here in May 2013, just one month before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013). In Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), through which Congress had sought to define “marriage” and “spouse” in more than 1,000 federal laws and federal regulations in a way that excluded same-sex spouses, thereby depriving them of the benefits that would come with federal recognition of their marriages and imposing “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter same-sex marriages.” Id. at 770. The Supreme Court found that DOMA deprived gay and lesbian married couples of equal liberty under the Fifth Amendment because it interfered with the equal dignity of marriages under State laws recognizing marriage between same-sex spouses.
When navigating routine experiences such as applying for jobs, traveling, accessing healthcare, and interacting with government agencies, many of us are able to present our identification documents or write down our legal names without a second thought. But for transgender individuals navigating these same spaces, having to use a legal name that is inconsistent with their gender identity often translates into a heightened risk of discrimination, harassment, and violence. That such a fundamental part of one’s identity — a person’s name — can expose one to bigotry or physical harm is an injustice that is unfortunately far too common in transgender communities.
In fact, in a 2015 survey of transgender Americans, nearly one-third of respondents reported being “verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave a location or establishment, or assaulted or attacked” as a result of showing a government-issued ID with a name or gender marker that did not match their gender expression. For many transgender individuals, the opportunity to legally change their legal name not only affirms their identity but also increases their safety. Yet many of those who want legal name changes cannot access them because of the cost and the complications of navigating the court system.
On February 5, 2021, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) granted asylum to our client, a gay man who suffered horrific violence based on his sexual orientation. For their own homophobic reasons, the police in his country of origin refused to investigate the hate crimes that were committed against him. Fearing for his life, our client fled to the United States. Now that he has received asylum, he can live and work in the United States indefinitely.
The modern asylum system grew out of a reaction to the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. In 1951, the United Nations defined a refugee as any individual not able to return to his or her home country because of a well-founded fear of future persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. The United States later signed onto this system, and in the 1990s, officially recognized that persecution due to one’s sexual orientation can qualify as a basis for asylum.
Nearly one-third of transgender individuals experience homelessness at some point in their life, and 70% of those who have stayed in a homeless shelter have reported some form of mistreatment, including harassment and refusal of service, due to their gender identity. Transgender individuals are significantly more likely to end up homeless than the general population because they often face rejection by their family members and discrimination in employment and housing. The levels of discrimination and income inequality are even higher for transgender women of color, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the rates of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness among the transgender population.
On September 22, 2020, Proskauer pro bono attorneys filed a public comment letter on behalf of The National LGBT Bar Association and Foundation urging the withdrawal of a Proposed Rule issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that would severely harm homeless transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals by allowing federally funded homeless shelters to discriminate against them on the basis of their gender identity. The Proposed Rule would eliminate key non-discrimination protections previously afforded to transgender shelter-seekers under HUD’s 2016 Equal Access Rule and would permit single-sex shelters to turn away transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals if the shelter operator determines that the individual is not of the same “biological sex” as the other shelter residents.