In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sexual and Gender Minority Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Queer Migration
  • Human Rights Documents Relevant to SGM People Seeking Refuge or Asylum
  • Pre-migration Experiences
  • Migration Trajectories
  • The Refugee and Asylum Claims Process
  • Mental Health, Stress, and Discrimination
  • Stress and Resilience
  • Integration, Acculturation, and Positive Resettlement
  • Clinical, Community, and Policy Practice
  • HIV, Sexual Health, and Sexual Risk
  • SGM Migrant Youth

Social Work Sexual and Gender Minority Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers
Edward Alessi, Sarilee Kahn, Woo Jin Edward Lee
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0291


Over the years, research on immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers has been rooted in hetero- and cisnormative discourse that has not only rendered these individuals invisible but also led to a lack of understanding of what they need to successfully integrate into host societies. However, as significant numbers of sexual and gender minority (SGM) people continue to migrate from their countries of origin to various countries around the world, SGM migration can no longer be viewed as a niche area, but one that is placed front and center in migration studies and current discourse on immigration. To provide context for the articles, books, and chapters in this article, it is important to discuss the differences among the terms: immigrant, refugee, and asylum seeker. An immigrant is a broad term used to describe someone who permanently moves to a foreign country. A refugee refers to an individual who flees their country of origin due to persecution; however, refugees are vetted prior to entering the host country while waiting in a country of transit. For example, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees might vet SGM individuals in Turkey before sending them to Canada. An asylum seeker also flees their country of origin due to persecution but is vetted after entering the host country. For instance, an SGM individual may enter the United States on a student or tourist visa, but then decide to seek asylum because they fear returning to their country of origin. The other term that is commonly used is migrant, which refers to an individual who moves from one place to another, either temporarily or permanently, in search of better work opportunities or social conditions. While domestic migration does occur often, this review focuses specifically on international migrants (i.e., those who move to a foreign country). The term migrant is used interchangeably with immigrant, refugee, or asylum seeker. Although these categories are technically different, it can be hard to distinguish among these socially constructed categories, as the experiences of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers share many commonalities during the pre-migration, travel, and resettlement phases, as will be evidenced in the works discussed in this article.

Introductory Works

These introductory works provide background in understanding SGM migrant experiences, highlighting how their pre- and post-migration experiences differ from heterosexual and cisgender individuals and how health and mental health professionals, refugee service providers, immigration adjudicators, and policymakers can assist this vulnerable population in culturally competent ways. Heller 2009 and Chavez 2011 provide general understanding of the needs of SGM migrants, while the articles in the special issues Couldrey and Herson 2013 and Nakamura and Pope 2013 provide in-depth discussion of the challenges faced by this population.

  • Chavez, K. 2011. Identifying the needs of LGBTQ immigrants and refugees in southern Arizona. Journal of Homosexuality 58.2: 189–218.

    This article shares findings from a needs assessment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) immigrants and refugees living in Arizona. The author recommends that service providers take into consideration LGBTQI immigrants and refugees’ linguistic and cultural needs and how multiple discrimination based on migrant status (especially if undocumented) and sexual and/or gender identity reduces access to housing and health and social services.

  • Couldrey, M., and M. Herson, eds. 2013. Special issue: Sexual orientation and gender identity and the protection of forced migrants. Forced Migration Review 42.

    One of the first publications devote entirely to the discussion of SGM forced migrants, these articles discuss their pre-victimization experiences, mental health issues, challenges related to the asylum claims process, experiences of those in detainment, and how to navigate various resettlement issues.

  • Heller, P. 2009. Challenges facing LGBT asylum-seekers: The role of social work in correcting oppressive immigration processes. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 21.2–3: 294–308.

    This author explores how social workers can assist LGBT asylum seekers as they navigate the US refugee determination process, such as sharing key information about the asylum process and helping LGBT asylum seekers manage the emotional challenges that emerge during this process.

  • Nakamura, N., and M. Pope, eds. 2013. Special issue: Borders and margins: Giving voice to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender immigrant experiences. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling 7.2.

    This special issue focuses on the pre- and post-migration experiences of LGBT immigrants, including the psychological and social impact of immigration laws and the way counselors can assist this vulnerable population.

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