For the second time in as many weeks, the Wall Street Journal has erred on covering LGBT issues, particularly transgender issues. Most recently in an article about asylum seekers from Honduras, writer Joel Millman paints a picture of an easy pipeline to asylum that unfairly favors LGBT applicants. The article trivializes the risk to LGBT people, writing “In some ways there's no better time to be gay in Honduras,” only to later explain that, in fact, Honduras is one of the most dangerous places in the world for LGBT people.
Millman seems to be arguing that LGBT asylum seekers are somehow using their sexual orientation or gender identity as some sort of gimmick to “game” the system. The danger LGBT asylum-seekers face in their home countries is no gimmick. Many come from countries where living openly as an LGBT person can mean being raped, tortured, arrested, or killed.
Moreover, obtaining asylum is not in any way easy. Like all asylum seekers, LGBT people must corroborate their claims with extensive evidence that their fear of persecution is well-founded. The law does not give LGBT people “an inside track” to a green card but rather allows them, just like any asylum seeker, to present evidence that they meet the legal standards to qualify for asylum.
Millman also implies that there exist two detention centers, one in Pearsall, Texas, and one in Santa Ana, California, dedicated exclusively to LGBT detainees This is wholly inaccurate. In reality, these two detention facilities house hundreds of detainees, the vast majority of whom are not LGBT. This language is troubling because it implies that LGBT folks receive undeserved “special” treatment upon being apprehended by immigration authorities. In fact, transgender detainees are almost invariably housed in sex-segregated facilities contrary to their gender identity where they are at greater risk for sexual assault.
The story also focuses heavily on transgender asylum seekers, but makes the mistake of using birth names and inaccurate pronouns that serve to invalidate their gender identity, contrary to the Associated Press and GLAAD guildelines. Also, the article focuses on the theme of prostitution throughout the article, as Millman makes various references to transgender women as "street walkers.” This masks a thinly veiled form of transphobia.
“I was disappointed and frustrated after reading the story printed earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal by Mr. Millman,” said Trina Olson, Interim Executive Director of Immigration Equality, the New York-based organization that defends people from around the world fleeing violence, abuse and persecution because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status. “While we fully recognize that writing about the LGBT immigrant community is complex, it is absolutely possible to do so both respectfully and accurately. Every day at Immigration Equality we work with LGBT and HIV-positive asylum seekers, detainees and binational couples. We need journalists to act responsibly so that readers everywhere can get an accurate picture of the lived experience of LGBT immigrants.”
There are approximately 267,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants in the United States who would greatly benefit from comprensive immigration reform for numerous reasons, including the dangers they face under detention and if sent back to their countries of origin.
This story follows last week's op-ed by noted anti-trans psychiatrist, Paul McHugh, which claimed that "transgender surgery isn’t the solution." The op-ed was filled with outdated and factually inaccurate information about transgender people, and McHugh, despite his credentials, draws disturbing conclusions from medical data presented without context.
GLAAD has been working with Immigration Equality and the Human Rights Campaign to reach out to the Wall Street Journal about their coverage about LGBT issues, particularly in these two pieces. As of this writing, there has been no response. We ask that the Wall Street Journal and its reporters and editors act with more thoughtfulness and accuracy when reporting on the transgender experience in the United States and abroad.