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

r> In one recent groundbreaking case, a lesbian from Uganda won U.S. asylum after her family had a stranger rape her as a "cure" for being gay. Neilson said the woman's petition was rejected initially by immigration officials because the abuse had been carried out in private, but an appeals court in Minnesota reversed that decision and approved her claim, noting that conditions in Uganda were so hostile that she could not seek protection from the state.

Often, even in countries where legal help is available theoretically, social hostility to homosexuals can overshadow their formal rights. Kosovo, for example, is governed under a postwar UN mandate. It has laws banning discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation and has an active, liberal press.

None of that, however, was enough to protect Prestreshi or his friend Korab Zuka, 23, who also fled to the United States this spring and is awaiting an asylum hearing. Zuka was a leader of the fledgling gay rights movement in Pristina, and he was featured last year in a British gay magazine article called "Europe's Hidden Homos."

Zuka, who speaks fluent English and exudes casual self-confidence, said his public profile led to unbearable pressure and a series of threats, including anonymous letters warning him to prepare for his funeral and burial. He said he repeatedly called the Kosovo police, who shrugged off his complaints.

"Kosovo is a society that has been repressed for hundreds of years. Its values are deeply traditional, and the war made people even more intolerant," Zuka said during a recent interview.

"It was very frightening to live there as a gay person. You always had the fear that someone would come up and kill you. At least here I can walk down the street without looking around to see who is behind me."


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