Intersectional Invisibility: Race, Gender, Sexuality, and the Erasure of Sexual Minority Women in US Asylum Law

Roxana Akbari, Stefan Vogler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Advocates have long observed that sexual minority women are treated less favorably than sexual minority men under US asylum law. However, there has been little empirical examination of these claims in a US context. We offer the first systematic comparative empirical analysis of 199 asylum decisions for cisgender sexual minorities. Using quantitative metrics to contextualize in-depth qualitative analysis, we show that even when cisgender sexual minority men and women face very similar types of violence, women's claims are adjudicated differently. This is particularly stark in courts' treatment of sexual violence but is also evident in determinations of generalized persecution and individuals' sexualities. When women attempt to use laws that are structured around straight, white, Western male perspectives and experiences, their pathways are limited and sometimes nonexistent. Although the flexibility in this area of asylum law has allowed many types of new claims, these changes have mostly benefited those assigned male at birth, and this surface malleability has ultimately worked to maintain law as a regulatory structure. Even with seemingly progressive changes in asylum law, the law itself continues to uphold race, gender, and sexuality as durable social structures and does little to ameliorate inequalities along these axes of social difference.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1062-1091
Number of pages30
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 24 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • Law


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