"I was the first bisexual person granted asylum in the U.S.," a first-person account for #BiWeek

For over ten years, I’ve been a community organizer in India, New York, and now Boston. Within a month of first starting out, I started being harassed, stalked and threatened because of the work I was doing. This went on for about six years, and it gradually got worse and more intense.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have had access to resources to come here, and then seek asylum. The truth is, a lot of asylum seekers do not even have the resources to get out of a dangerous situation. Raising money for airfare and the visa application process is hard, getting an American visa is harder. Then – once you get that visa and ticket, you need to have some start up money for after you get here. Once you get here, you need to find a place to live while you learn how things work, apply for asylum and then support yourself till you actually get asylum. This process can take anywhere from a year to three years, and it takes about six months after you put in your application till you are eligible to receive a work permit. For 180 days, you have to figure it out and since there are no grants available to non-profits to support asylum seekers (there is money to support refugees – that’s the difference), no one really wants to take us in. Or… the ones who do, aren’t always the safest option.

When I started my asylum process, there was no question in my mind that I would apply as a bisexual asylum seeker. As we do these days, I google searched “bisexual asylum”. Back then the results page showed failed bisexual asylum claims and even had a link to an immigration organization that implied that seeking asylum as a bisexual was a bad idea. Everything online told me not to apply as bisexual, but to apply for asylum as a gay person. I’ve been mislabeled a lesbian in the past by over-excited journalists and people who thought they knew more about me than I did about my own identity, but this was different. I couldn’t bring myself to even consider lying about who I am, after I had left my home because it was unsafe for me because of who I am.

My lawyer even asked me if I would consider seeking asylum as a lesbian because it would “improve my chances” – like it was a choice I could make. The false assumption that adjucators and judges make right now, is that as a bisexual person you can go choose to be in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender and pass as straight and hence be safe in your home country. They assume that we can choose who we’re attracted to, that our identities depend on the people we are in love with and that we stop being bisexual when we are in relationships that look heterosexual. I was one of the few people who could insist on what I wanted to do and be listened to. I’ve heard far too many stories about that not being the case. Unfortunately, for bisexual asylum seekers who are granted asylum as gay or lesbian, they are forced to hide the best part of themselves once again, because being who they are puts them at the risk of losing everything. Isn’t that why we sought asylum in the first place?

The last four years have been overwhelming and powerful. I have gone from not having my own bed for about a year, to living in someone’s basement, to having my own room in my own home only to be unable to cope with normal life, as my PTSD kicked in. I’ve stayed in bed, unable to physically move because of how depressed I was to being so weak I couldn’t stand without blacking out for a few seconds because I’ve been so anemic, my body couldn’t keep up. I’ve stretched twenty dollars to feed me for two weeks, to being completely broke – I’ve had to borrow money without knowing if I could pay them back. I’ve also occasionally been fortunate to find people who could and would help me out, I’ve been fortunate to find work I could do that paid, I’ve had people who have helped me figure out what was wrong with my health and brought me to health care centers that provided me with care. I’ve had people who have loved me and supported me, unconditionally. And now, I try to give back by pushing back against the system and trying to tell anyone who will listen about why bisexual asylum reform is mandatory.

Our lives are at stake. I encourage you to do a google search with the keywords “bisexual asylum”. The stories that show up are disheartening and horrifying. Till that changes, I hope you will join me in talking about it and more importantly help those of us who talk about the truth about bisexuality by joining these conversations and dispelling myths about our identities. Change starts with you, and I want you on my team!

Apphia Kumar is a workshop facilitator and youth educator with experience in community building, organizational development, public speaking, network building, training and facilitation, fundraising and event production. A warrior, survivor and the voice in the room reminding it to be affirming and inclusive, Apphia aims to empower a generation for change. Apphia currently runs the Queer South Asian Collective for LGBTQIA+ people of South Asian diaspora in Greater Boston. She is the first known bisexual asylee and in addition to her work with - QSAC, she is working on Bisexual Asylum Advocacy with NQAPIA to disrupt the stigma around bisexual immigration. In the work she does, she aims to decolonize gender and sexuality and reclaim masculinities in a way that is healthy, safe, affirming, kind and beautiful. Share her story and yours with @GLAAD using #BiWeek on social media.

Learn more at glaad.org/biweek