Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Secures Asylum for Brazilian Gay Man

Posted on February 8th, 2010 by Katherine Franke

Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic has won asylum for a gay man who feared persecution because of his sexual orientation if forced to return to his native Brazil.

The grant, issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, comes at a time when conditions for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) individuals in Brazil are becoming more dangerous.

“In Brazil, I lived in constant fear for my life,” said the man, Augusto Pereira de Souza, 27. “I tried to hide that I was gay, but still faced repeated beatings, attacks, and threats on my life because I was gay. At times I was attacked by skinheads and brutally beaten by cops. After the cops attack you and threaten your life for being gay, you learn quickly that there is no one that will protect you. For me, coming to the U.S. was a life or death decision.”

Brazil has one of the highest rates of hate crimes against GLBT people in the world. Grupo Gay da Bahia, the leading GLBT rights organization in Brazil, reports that between 1980 and 2009 there were 2,998 reported murders of homosexuals in Brazil. In 2008 alone, over 190 GLBT people were murdered, and the actual number is likely to be much higher since many of these killings go unreported.

“Mr. Pereira de Souza’s story is unfortunately not unusual for a gay man in Brazil,” said Rena Stern ‘11 a student who worked on the case. “The number of attacks and murders based on sexual orientation in Brazil has actually increased in recent years.”

Pereira de Souza, who will live in Newark, N.J., was referred to the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic by Immigration Equality, a national organization focused on immigration rights for GLBT individuals that provided important assistance in the case.

“In Brazil, police routinely fail to investigate violence committed against GLBT individuals,” said Brian Ward ‘10, another clinic student who helped Pereira de Souza prepare his asylum application. “In this environment, skinheads and other groups are free to persecute, torture, and even kill GLBT individuals with impunity.  Asylum will allow Mr. Pereira de Souza to stay in the United States where he will no longer have to fear for his life.”

Since September, three students from the Sexuality and Gender Clinic—Ward, Stern, and Mark Musico ’11—have provided legal assistance in preparing the application for asylum. The students spent many months conducting interviews, drafting affidavits, researching country conditions, filling out the necessary forms, and preparing the client for his interview.


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