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Russian Applications For US Asylum Skyrocket In 2015

LGBT activists marching for gay rights in Moscow. Image: Bogomolov.PL/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on 12 November, 2015.

The number of new U.S. asylum applications by Russians has reached its highest level in more than two decades, a surge that immigration lawyers link to the Kremlin’s tightening grip on politics, pervasive corruption, and discrimination and violence against sexual minorities.

Russian nationals filed 1,454 new asylum applications in the 2015 fiscal year ending September 30, up 50 percent from the previous year and more than double the number filed in 2012, when President Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin after a four-year stint as prime minister, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security data obtained by RFE/RL under the Freedom Of Information Act. » More

Passport-Shaped Boxes

Male/Female Sign

Gender: depends which way you look at it, photo courtesy Brian Suda/flickr

Humans like to categorize and classify things – it helps make life easier. Well, at least some people’s lives. For others, trying to squeeze themselves into these boxes is nearly impossible.

So the news that Australia has decided to allow people to select “X” as a gender on their passports – as opposed to M(ale) or F(emale) – comes as welcome relief to the transgender and intersex communities. Back in 2009, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission undertook a study into the issues surrounding the legal recognition of sex and gender in official documents.  The participants’ comments were enlightening.

It surprised me to find that Australia is not the first state to (officially) acknowledge gender possibilities beyond the simple male/female dichotomy. Other groups have already successfully petitioned for an alternative choice: in India, the hijra can use “E” for ‘eunuch’, and in Bangladesh they can choose “Other”.

However, being able to choose this third option in Australia is currently restricted to those able to support their claim with a doctor’s statement. Why should this be the case? The Yogyakarta Principles state that it should be an individual’s self-defined identity which matters. Indeed, it got me wondering why on earth gender needs to be listed in a passport at all.

In the Australian Human Rights Report mentioned above, the main concern was apparently “national security”. Australian senator Louise Pratt stated that this reform “was a major improvement for travelers facing questioning and detention at airports because their appearance does not match their gender status.” But why does that matter? Surely it is more critical that their face matches the photo. So once more, why does gender need to be listed in a passport?

But, since we’re playing the categorization game, which box would you put internationally renowned model Andrej Pejic in — so as to no longer pose a threat to national security?

Update (20 Sep): It seems that the UK government is now asking itself the same question on whether gender needs to be listed in a passport, in a move spearheaded by the Liberal Democrat party. The Home Office’s Identity and Passport Service (IPS) said in a statement: “IPS is considering the gender options available to customers in the British passport. We are exploring with international partners and relevant stakeholders the security implications of gender not being displayed in the passport.”

Keyword in Focus: Gay Rights

Gay rights are human rights, photo: William Murphy/flickr

In the wake of an Ugandan newspaper publishing the names and pictures of the country’s “top homosexuals” recently (with an appalling banner reading ‘Hang them’ on the cover), gay rights across the world and particularly in Africa have become a topic of discussion once more. As many Ugandan homosexuals said in response to the publishing of what can only be described as a ‘hit list’, the situation had been much calmer and more stable prior to the publishing of this article and in the years before homosexuality had become a religiously and politically charged issue on the continent.

With well-documented involvement from western, especially American evangelical groups in stigmatizing and condemning homosexuality openly and vociferously, the space for maneuver for many African gays has become suffocatingly narrow. They are trapped between traditional norms that do not approve of homosexuality; attitudes that had simply lain dormant or been overlooked until recently, and a religiously conservative movement that has systematically stoked intolerance and hatred against gays.

Will the situation for the LGBT community only get worse or are we witnessing a mix of setbacks and progress worldwide, with true human rights respected in some places, while a wave of intolerance and prejudice hits others?

We hold an excellent set of resources on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in the ISN Digital Library. Feel free to explore and let us know what you found particularly interesting. Here are some highlights:

  • An ETC paper on the LGBT community as an ‘easy target’
  • A News Article on the position of gays and lesbians in the military

Plus a host of excellent Links and Organizations.