As a California immigration lawyer who files many asylum cases, I am used to thinking of a the United States as a place of refuge and to documenting the horrible country conditions of other countries. I have successfully represented applicants for asylum who feared staying in their countries because while serving in their countries' armies, they were harmed on account of their sexual orientation.
It is therefore rather surprising to come across a story of a U.S.soldier who is fleeing to Canada because she fears harm in the U.S. Army on account of her sexual orientation. According to CBC news, U.S. Army Pte. Bethany Smith fled Canada in September 2007 from a U.S. Army base in Fort Campbell, Ky. She applied for refugee status in October 2007, saying that she was harassed and threatened by fellow soldiers over her sexual orientation and feared that her life would be in danger if she were deported and returned to the army. The Canadian authorities initially rejected in her claim in February 2009. However, on appeal, the Federal Court of Canada held that the refugee board must reconsider the case again because the Board made several mistakes in initially reviewing her claim.
The Federal Court's decision noted that the refugee board failed to fully consider the evidence pertaining to the situation of gays and lesbians in the U.S. Army to determine whether Pte. Smith could have availed herself of protection in the United States. The Federal Court also noted that the Board failed to determine whether Pte. Smith would be persecuted on account of her social group - as a lesbian in the U.S. Army if forced to return. There were other errors mentioned in the decision.
It is sad that the U.S. policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," is the basis of an asylum claim in Canada. Pt. Smith was only 19 years old when she fled to Canada. From everything I read, it appears that she wanted to serve in the U.S. Army and no real desire to leave the United States. At a time when we apparently need people to serve in the Armed Forces and in fact give non-citizens a way to immigrate to the United States faster for their service, it seems ridiculous that an American citizen should have to leave. It it is time to eliminate the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.