Lambda Helps Win Review of Russian Lesbian's Asylum Plea

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Ninth Circuit panel is highest court ever to rule on a gay asylum case
June 26, 1997

(NEW YORK, June 26, 1997) — A San Francisco federal appeals court this week gave new hope to a Russian lesbian and other gay people seeking political asylum, sending the case of Alla Pitcherskaia back to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Thursday.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the highest court ever to rule on a gay asylum case, said that lesbians and gay men who suffer violence in their homelands need not prove the malicious intent of persecutors claiming that they act only to "cure" gay people such as with forced psychiatric hospitalization, electroshock therapy, or drugs.

"The court recognized the cruelty and discrimination in government anti-gay persecution, regardless of the excuses that governments may give," said Lambda Staff Attorney Suzanne B. Goldberg, who argued on Pitcherskaia's behalf before the appeals court.

Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn added, "This decision not only puts Alla's case in a new light, it allows other lesbian and gay asylum seekers, who are often persecuted in their homelands under the guise of dubious 'treatments,' to hope for safety here."

The 35-year-old Pitcherskaia, who now lives in San Francisco, is seeking political asylum in the United States in In Re Pitcherskaia. She was beaten, harassed, and forcibly detained by both the Russian police and organized crime members for being a lesbian and advocate for lesbian and gay civil rights.

As Goldberg told the court at a December 11, 1996, hearing, if returned to Russia, Pitcherskaia faces so-called 'treatments' others have suffered for their sexual orientation. Since her absence from Russia, her business has also been destroyed and a co-worker murdered.

The court's unanimous decision, issued Tuesday and written by Judge Betty B. Fletcher, said, "That a persecutor believes that the harm is 'good for' the victim does not make it any less painful to the victim or remove the conduct from the statutory definition of persecution. Human rights laws cannot be sidestepped simply by couching torture in benevolent terms such as 'curing' or 'treating' the victim."

The federal appeals court's decision finds a 1995 U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rejection of Pitcherskaia's application for political asylum erroneous based on its emphasis on the intent of her persecutors; the court remanded her case for reconsideration.

San Francisco attorney Ignatius Bau, who is co-counsel with Lambda in the case, said, "This ruling marks the first time a federal appeals court has ruled on political asylum for someone facing anti-gay persecution in her home country. It represents a critical step in acknowledging that the persecution of lesbians and gay men around the world is a fundamental consideration when reviewing applications for political asylum. "

Targeted by the Russian police since her youth for being a lesbian, the only criminal charge ever brought against Pitcherskaia, even after years of arrests and beatings at their hands, was "hooliganism." This charge is often used against lesbians and gays and allows police to arrest and detain persons for up to 15 days without trial and for up to five years following a conviction.

Pitcherskaia was expelled from medical college for being in a lesbian relationship; she repeatedly lost jobs because the police would come to her places of employment to harass her. After trying to start her own business with gay co-workers, she was targeted by Russian organized crime. Pitcherskaia was kidnaped and assaulted, her friends were beaten, her car was burned, and her apartment was burglarized. When she asked police for help, they refused to send their officers to defend "perverts."

After Pitcherskaia left her home country in 1992, the Russian Mafia destroyed her business and killed one of her co-workers. She applied for asylum after being advised by her mother that the Mafia was still looking for her and that it was not safe to return.

Lambda also is supporting the asylum claim of a Brazilian gay man seeking to escape paramilitary death squads which target gay men (Matter of Tenorio) and the asylum claim of a Honduran lesbian brutally gang-raped because of her sexual orientation who fears further attack (Matter of Yanez-Flores).

(In re Pitcherskaia, No. 95-70887)



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