Gay Jamaican Secures Asylum in US

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GayMaleLogo.jpgVenn Messam, a gay Jamaican man who sought asylum in the United States on the grounds that he feared persecution – because of his sexual orientation - if forced to return to Jamaica, was granted asylum by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on November 8, 2007.

Messam enlisted assistance from students at Columbia Law School's Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and since September of last year, four students provided legal assistance in preparing their client's application for asylum. Simrin Parmar '08, Jennifer Stark '09, Jonathan Lieberman '08, and Eileen Plaza '09 spent many months conducting interviews, drafting affidavits, researching country conditions, filling out necessary forms, accompanying their client to the New York asylum office, and providing assistance during his interview.

Columbia Law School's report on this breakthrough for Messam, speaks of the climate in Jamaica for homosexuals, bisexuals and trans-gendered (GLBT) people, as being shrouded in danger that gets worse daily. Citing incidents specific to Messam, such as his own declaration that, "My life in Jamaica was constantly in danger, with angry mobs carrying machetes, stones, knives, and guns, threatening to kill me because I am gay," as well as uncovering a rampant rumour that hostile groups in Jamaica are plotting the social cleansing of hundreds of gay people by year's end, the report categorises Jamaica as being 'far from a tropical paradise.'

"Within just the last month, gay Jamaicans have been murdered and the government has not intervened...this Caribbean nation continues to imprison and kill its gay citizens with relative impunity," the report from Columbia Law School added.

Reportedly relieved at this life saving event, Messam stated, "I am grateful to the United States government for saving my life."

He spoke of the lack of public protection for him in Jamaica during times of fear and dire need – saying, "When I tried to contact the police for help, the police instead threatened to arrest me and told me to leave the country if I wanted to stay safe."

"This asylum grant highlights the particularly severe dangers facing gay Jamaicans. From election campaigns that use songs which promote burning and killing gay people to police support for violent, anti-gay mobs, the Jamaican government is actively menacing and endangering its gay citizens," said Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg, director of the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic.

"Mr. Messam's personal story, and the stories of countless other Jamaicans demonstrate the terrifying situation facing GLBT individuals in Jamaica" said Simrin Parmar, one of the Columbia law students who worked on this case. "We are thankful that Mr. Messam will be able to live openly as a gay man...safe from government-sponsored persecution," remarked Jennifer Stark, another Columbia law student who worked on this case, "but it is alarming to think about the fate of other GLBT people in Jamaica who are not as fortunate."

Mr. Messam was referred to Columbia's Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic by Immigration Equality, a national organization focused on immigration rights for GLBT individuals, which provided important assistance in the case.

"This experience...where students are responsible for working through the challenges of a case that makes a real world difference in an emerging and important area of law...is what the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic is all about," said Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg. "Thanks to the students' work, we can now provide supporting materials to asylum advocates for gay Jamaicans anywhere in the world," she added.

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