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Gays and Lesbians can Obtain asylum in US on Grounds of Harassment and Abuse

rities failed to protect them. They must also prove that they were abused because they are homosexual -- and thus prove that they are, in fact, gay.

"Immigration officials are very concerned about fraud and may be suspicious if you don't look the part. Some lawyers will ask their clients to 'dress as gay as possible,' " said Todd Pilcher, an attorney at Whitman-Walker, whose clients include a victim of gang violence from El Salvador, a medical doctor from Venezuela and a former soldier from Colombia.

In many societies, homosexuals spend years hiding their sexual identity in order to survive. Prestreshi said that in Kosovo, pressure to conform to traditional values is so strong that most gay people marry and have children. Most inhabitants are Muslim, as he is, and religious opprobrium against homosexuality is strong.

Raul Calderon, 40, the ex-soldier from Colombia, said he was raped as a recruit of 15 but commanded by officers who constantly exhorted the troops "not to act like women." In an atmosphere of civil war militarism, he said, he felt equally threatened by the guerrillas, the armed forces and members of the right-wing squads who called themselves social cleansing committees. "To them, people like me were filth," he said.

Often, Pilcher and other lawyers said, foreigners living in the United States who have possible grounds for asylum on the basis of sexual orientation are afraid to come forward or unaware that there is a one-year deadline to apply after they enter the country. In many cases, they might overstay a visitor's visa and become illegal, permanently losing their chance to seek refugee status.

Even in societies with freewheeling, tolerant urban cultures, homosexuals can be harassed to the point of seeking refuge abroad. Brazil, for example, has a huge population of gays and transvestites, and last month's annual gay pride festival in Sao Paolo drew 3 million people, according
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