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Columbia Law School's Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic secured asylum for a gay, HIV-positive man who feared persecution if forced to return to his home country, the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in West Africa. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued the grant of asylum in December.

"This case sheds light on the violence and abuse gay men and people living with HIV/AIDS face in Côte d'Ivoire," said Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg, who directs the Clinic. The extensive documentation of the horrific conditions faced by gay and HIV-positive Ivoirians that the Clinic students compiled is now available for all gay or HIV-positive asylum-seekers from Côte d'Ivoire.

The client, age 32, arrived in the United States in January 2004. His application for asylum describes the personal violence and abuse he was subjected to because of his sexual orientation. He has been raped and beaten by military and militia members and was subjected to constant verbal and physical abuse by his neighbors, classmates and his own father. His application also describes the lack of protection offered him at home in Côte d’Ivoire, where police also participate in the persecution of gay people.

"I feel really happy and blessed that I was granted asylum, because I was not expecting it," the man said. "I am so happy that I can stay in the U.S. and live a happy and healthy life."  He added, "I am so grateful for all of the hard work of the Clinic students, Professor Goldberg and Immigration Equality."

Immigration Equality, a national organization focused on immigration rights for GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) individuals, referred the asylum-seeker to the Clinic and provided important assistance on the case.  

Since September, five students from Columbia's Sexuality and Gender Clinic—Dana Kaufman '09, Holly Chen '09, Abbey Hudson '09, Brad Mullins '10 and Keren Zwick '09—have provided legal assistance to their client.

The Clinic students spent several months conducting interviews, drafting affidavits, researching country conditions, reaching out to HIV experts and filling out necessary forms to complete the asylum application. The students also accompanied their client to the asylum office in Rosedale, New York for his asylum interview, where students Holly Chen and Dana Kaufman asked follow-up questions and made a closing presentation to the asylum officer after the client's testimony.

"We are thankful that our client will finally be able to live openly as a gay man, safe from government-sponsored persecution, and that he will be able to access the life-saving HIV medications that he would not have been able to obtain in Côte d’Ivoire," said Kaufman. "We hope that our client's case will help combat the misperception that Côte d'Ivoire is a safe place for gay people, and will let other Ivoirians who are persecuted because of their sexual orientation know that they are not alone," said Kaufman.

Goldberg said, "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."

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