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Front. Hum. Dyn., 20 May 2022
Sec. Refugees and Conflict
Volume 4 - 2022 |

Editorial: Sexuality, Gender and Asylum: Refugees at a Crossroads

  • 1School of Health and Society, University of Salford, Salford, United Kingdom
  • 2Faculty of Business and Law, University of the West of England, Bristol, United Kingdom
  • 3School of Law, Politics and Sociology, University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom
  • 4Department of Political and Social Sciences, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy

Human rights have been increasingly recognized irrespective of one's sexual orientation of gender identity (SOGI) at international, regional and domestic levels; however, legal frameworks do not yet tackle violations of such rights effectively. As a result, members of SOGI minorities may be forced to flee their countries of origin to protect themselves, often making SOGI-based asylum claims in host countries. There are no reliable statistics on the global number of SOGI claimants, but based on media and NGO reports and estimates, thousands of SOGI claimants seek international protection every year.

SOGI asylum claims raise particular issues in the context of any legal system, including the role of private actors and widespread social stigma, the role of legislation criminalizing same-sex conduct in the country of origin, the assessment of credibility, and the assessment of internal relocation alternatives. In recent years there has been increasing research interest on SOGI asylum in Europe and beyond, and scholars from various disciplines have explored how SOGI claims are often treated in an inappropriate and stereotyped way in several jurisdictions, at legal, cultural and social levels, with particular repercussions in relation to claimants' proof of membership of a particular social group (PSG), risk of persecution and credibility. There has also been increasing interest in the social experiences of SOGI claimants and refugees, and their physical and mental health needs in their host countries.

Despite this growing body of literature on the topic of SOGI asylum, it is clear that many theoretical, geographical and practical challenges and gaps remain. This Research Topic aims to address some of those by addressing a range of aspects that have been offered insufficient attention. It does so by bringing together interdisciplinary and original contributions that push the boundaries of our knowledge and understanding of SOGI asylum:

Chossière explores how the intersection of refugeeness, sexuality, and gender is spatially experienced by queer asylum claimants and refugees in the Parisian area. Based on extensive qualitative research, the article demonstrates how the administrative categories of “asylum seeker” or “refugee” constrain the everyday lives of queer asylum claimants and refugees but also how these categories are negotiated and sometimes strategically mobilized in various contexts.

Based on qualitative document analysis of EU “safe country” policies and on interviews with organizations supporting LGBTI+ asylum claimants, Le Bellec's article demonstrates that despite the implementation of gender-sensitive safeguards, LGBTI+ asylum claimants are particularly affected by “safe country” practices. As of 2020, 21 EU Member States use the concept of “safe country of origin”, which includes countries where LGBTIQ+ people are criminalized. As Le Bellec argues, the idea of countries being “safe” has wider implications also for nationalities that are not on the list of “safe country of origin”, and therefore the concept is not compatible with gender equality or LGBTI+ rights.

Focusing on gender identity and gender expression as grounds for international protection, Avgeri examines the current framework for determining the Refugee Convention's membership of a Particular Social Group (PSG) requirement and highlights the lack of a coherent legal approach. Avgeri demonstrates how Trans Studies could be utilized to provide a more humanizing and depathologized framework for assessing claims by trans and gender non-conforming claimants.

From the perspective of the lived experience of transgender refugees living in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, Soloaga's article highlights how transgender refugees are active agents in advocating for their rights not only in their country of origin but also in their supposedly “safe” receiving countries, where they often experience a continuation of their persecution. Drawing on a combination of case studies, interviews, and participatory photography, Soloaga demonstrates how transgender refugee activists leverage social remittances and transnational ties for their activism, and how grassroots organizations play an important role in providing a platform and safe spaces.

Gordon-Orr's article demonstrates how normative understandings of sexuality and sexual relationships shape LGBTIQ+ asylum claimants' experience of the UK immigration system. Using a critical queer legal approach, Gordon-Orr examines policies and legal judgments related to SOGI jurisprudence. She shows how “mononormativity” and assumptions about the centrality of coupledom, alongside heteronormative and homonormative understandings, shape decision-making practices on LGBTIQ+ claims, disadvantaging those who cannot evidence (long-term) same-sex couple relationships.

Zisakou's analysis of 60 LGB+ asylum cases in Greece demonstrates that interview and decision-making practices by the Greek Asylum Service to assess credibility in asylum claims based on sexual orientation do not comply with international and European guidelines for credibility assessment, or if they do on first sight, they are based on essentialist understandings of lesbian, gay, and bisexual identity. This reflects a commonly found approach in Europe that focuses on a biased notion of a fixed and immutable LGB+ identity that neglects intersections with gender, class, ethnicity, and race. Zisakou's article highlights the need for revised guidelines by advisory bodies and agencies (such as UNHCR and EUAA).

Combined, these pieces contribute to the existing literature and current debates on SOGI asylum, advancing both theoretical and policy debates on SOGI asylum.

Author Contributions

NH wrote the initial draft. CQ, MD, CD, and NF all commented, revised and provided approval for publication of content-shared authorship.


This Research Topic has been produced within the context of the project- Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Claims of Asylum: A European Human Rights Challenge - SOGICA ( This project has been received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 677693).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

Keywords: asylum, sexuality, gender, LGBTIQ+, refugees

Citation: Held N, Querton C, Dustin M, Danisi C and Ferreira N (2022) Editorial: Sexuality, Gender and Asylum: Refugees at a Crossroads. Front. Hum. Dyn. 4:930310. doi: 10.3389/fhumd.2022.930310

Received: 27 April 2022; Accepted: 04 May 2022;
Published: 20 May 2022.

Edited and reviewed by: Jane Freedman, Université Paris 8, France

Copyright © 2022 Held, Querton, Dustin, Danisi and Ferreira. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Nina Held,