Lesbian fleeing US army applies for asylum in Canada

By staff writers
November 24, 2009

A former soldier who fled from the US army following homophobic persecution, has won the right to appeal for asylum in Canada. Bethany Smith, 21, says that she received death threats and was repeatedly assaulted after other soldiers discovered her sexuality.

Smith reports that the US army refused her request to be discharged, which she suggests was due to a shortage of troops for the war in Afghanistan.

After fleeing to Canada, her asylum claim was initially rejected, but a Canadian court has now ordered the country's immigration board to review her application.

Smith is one of around 200 former soldiers who are living in Canada after fleeing from the US army. None have yet been granted asylum and Smith is thought to be the first to cite homophobic persecution as grounds for an asylum claim.

Her case has highlighted repressive conditions in the US army, which both prevent soldiers from leaving and cause many of them to deny their sexuality.

Smith's lawyer, Jamie Liew, suggests that if she is returned to the USA she will fear for her life. She is also likely to face charges of desertion, for choosing to leave the army, and indecency - as it is illegal for members of the US armed forces to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same sex.

US President Barrack Obama has pledged to change the so-called “don't ask, don't tell” law which allows soldiers such as Smith to be prosecuted for their sexuality.

A Canadian judge, Yves de Montigny, said last week that allegations of harassment against gay and lesbian soldiers should not be dismissed.

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