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Intersectional Invisibility: Race, Gender, Sexuality, and the Erasure of Sexual Minority Women in US Asylum Law

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 May 2021

Abstract

Advocates have long observed that sexual minority women are treated less favorably than sexual minority men under US asylum law. However, there has been little empirical examination of these claims in a US context. We offer the first systematic comparative empirical analysis of 199 asylum decisions for cisgender sexual minorities. Using quantitative metrics to contextualize in-depth qualitative analysis, we show that even when cisgender sexual minority men and women face very similar types of violence, women’s claims are adjudicated differently. This is particularly stark in courts’ treatment of sexual violence but is also evident in determinations of generalized persecution and individuals’ sexualities. When women attempt to use laws that are structured around straight, white, Western male perspectives and experiences, their pathways are limited and sometimes nonexistent. Although the flexibility in this area of asylum law has allowed many types of new claims, these changes have mostly benefited those assigned male at birth, and this surface malleability has ultimately worked to maintain law as a regulatory structure. Even with seemingly progressive changes in asylum law, the law itself continues to uphold race, gender, and sexuality as durable social structures and does little to ameliorate inequalities along these axes of social difference.

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Articles
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Bar Foundation

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Footnotes

The authors would like to thank David John Frank for his mentorship and guidance on this project. This work was partially supported by University of California Irvine Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

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