2015 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Tsion Gurmu

Tsion Gurmu

Name of Host Organization: African Services Committee
City, State: New York, New York
Issue area: Immigrant Populations
Sponsors: Equal Justice Works Text to Give

The Project

Tsion will provide comprehensive legal representation for LGBT African immigrants fleeing anti-homosexuality legislation in their home countries, with a focus on individuals also affected by HIV/AIDS.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
LGBT Africans are fleeing their homes due to the expansion of anti-homosexuality laws, which have fueled explosions of violence and rhetoric touting homophobia as cultural resistance to neocolonialism. Currently, 38 African countries have enacted laws criminalizing homosexuality. The number of asylum-seeking LGBT Africans is escalating due to these laws. African LGBT immigrants are particularly vulnerable because language and cultural barriers make it difficult to access service providers or disclose intimate aspects of their identity, particularly before the asylum filing deadline. They are also left outside of the African immigrant communities’ interpersonal and “mutual aid” networks. African LGBT immigrants are thus closed off to legal remedies due to the residual effects of the persecution that make them eligible for asylum. This project aims to create a systematic response to meet the legal needs of LGBT Africans resettling in the US through a novel partnership with an African attorney and the largest African-focused service provider in the US.
The Right Person For This Project: 
Tsion is the right person for the project because:
• She arrived in the US as an asylee and has worked intimately with African immigrant communities since that time
• She has a nuanced understanding of the various ways anti-homosexuality legislation in Africa has pushed LGBT populations further to the margins, as well as the unique challenges LGBT Africans encounter when pursuing asylum relief
• During law school, she pursued her passion for immigration law by volunteering with organizations in the New York City area and working as a student attorney with New York University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic
Plans For First Six Months of Fellowship: 
In the first six months, Tsion will:
• Develop LGBT-specific materials for outreach to African service providers and associations to create a network for support, technical assistance, referrals, and broader advocacy
• Establish relationships with African service providers and associations
• Provide immigration trainings that specifically include LGBT-based asylum
• Create a database to monitor the network of African service providers and associations
• Identify cases for direct representation and begin direct representation

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