U.S. grants asylum for gay Brazilian man

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted asylum for a Brazilian gay man who told authorities of repeated beatings and threats on his life in his homeland.

“In Brazil, I Iived in constant fear,” said Augusto Pereira de Souza, of Newark, N.J. “I tried to hide that I was gay, but still faced repeated beatings, attacks and threats on my life because I was gay.”

The 27-year-old said he endured attacks by skinheads and police officers.

“After the cops attack you and threaten your life for being gay, you learn quickly that there is no one that will protect you,” he said. “For me, coming to the United States was a life or death decision.”

The Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic secured the asylum grant for Pereira de Souza in mid-February.

Three students – Rena Stern, Brian Ward and Mark Musico – began working on the asylum quest last September. The application involved months of interviews, drafting of affidavits, researching country conditions and preparing Pereira de Souza for his interview with federal authorities.

The students found that Brazil has one of the highest rates of crimes against LGBT people in the world. Grupo Gay de Bahia, the leading LGBT civil rights group in the country, reported the slaying of 2,998 LGBT people between 1989 and 2009. In 2008, more than 190 LGBT people were killed.

“Mr. Pereira de Souza’s story is unfortunately not unusual for a gay man in Brazil,” said Stern, who plans to graduate in 2011. “The number of attacks and murders based on sexual orientation in Brazil has actually increased in recent years.”

Federal lawmakers have taken notice of the escalation of violence against LGBT people in foreign countries.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., led a coalition of 12 senators and 33 representatives calling for the United States to work with the United Nations to enforce human rights laws and protect LGBT people.

The lawmakers focused on situations in Iran and in Iraq, where, according to the UN, hundreds of LGBT people were killed in 2009.

“If Iraq, Iran and other countries are not providing the legal protections that members of their LGBT communities are entitled to, it is our duty to join our partners in the international community, enforce the human rights laws that protect us all, and free LGBT individuals from persecution,” stated Gillibrand, who holds the Senate seat Hillary Clinton gave up to head the State Department.

Baldwin, in a statement, said, “The lives of LGBT individuals in Iran and Iraq … are in grave danger. I know Secretary of State Clinton shares our concerns for human rights, and I hope she will use the full force of her office to respond to the plight of Iraqi and Iranian LGBT refugees and urge the UNHRC to do the same.”

The lawmakers’ call for action offered some specifics:

  • For U.S. ambassadors to “strongly and consistently” raise the fact that targeting LGBT people or failing to protect them violates human rights law.
  • For the UN to train employees to understand and deal with LGBT refugee issues.
  • For LGBT people who face risks in their home countries but also in countries of first asylum to be assisted with resettlement as quickly as possible.

Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer urged the administration to follow the recommendations, “including a fast-track resettlement process for individuals facing serious protection risks.”

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