Elizabeth Schmalz 212-854-2156
NEW YORK (November 8, 2007) – Today, Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic secured asylum for Ven Messam, a gay man who feared persecution if forced to return to Jamaica because of his sexual orientation. The grant of asylum, issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, comes at a time when conditions for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people in Jamaica are getting more dangerous by the day.
Within just the last month, gay Jamaicans have been murdered and the government has not intervened. Rampant rumors that hostile groups are plotting the social cleansing of hundreds of gay people by year’s end have forced countless GLBT people into hiding. Far from a tropical paradise, this Caribbean nation continues to imprison and kill its gay citizens with relative impunity.
“I am grateful to the United States government for saving my life,” said Mr. Messam. “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. 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.
Since this past September, four students from Columbia’s Sexuality and Gender Clinic—Simrin Parmar ’08, Jennifer Stark ’09, Jonathan Lieberman ’08, and Eileen Plaza ’09—have provided legal assistance in preparing their client’s application for asylum. The students 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.
“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.
Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic began in September 2006 and currently has eight students. Under Professor Goldberg’s guidance, students have worked on a wide range of projects, from constitutional litigation to legislative advocacy to immigration cases. Through the broad scope of its work, clinic students have had the opportunity to serve both individual and organizational clients, and they have devoted over 6,500 hours to cases involving issues of sexuality and gender law. For more information, please visit http://www.law.columbia.edu/focusareas/clinics/sexuality.