Immigration Equality Drives Progress for Human Rights & Social Justice

Immigration Equality operates the nation’s only full-time hotline for LGBT and HIV+ immigrants. Through the LGBT Asylum Program, Immigration Equality represents more than 400 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and HIV-positive immigrants fleeing from Jamaica, Russia, Uganda and other countries every year. The program was recently chosen by the Leadership Council as the CLASSY Award Winner for Human Rights & Social Justice Services.

To determine the winners, the Leadership Council applied their own expertise to judging criteria developed by the CLASSY Awards in partnership with the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, a recognized authority on analyzing social impact within and across causes to assess programs that are poised to drive social progress. The criteria looks at (1) Scale and Scope of the Problem or Issue Addressed, (2) Strength of Strategy Employed, (3) Impact To-Date, and (4) Organizational Effectiveness and Resource Management.

The LGBT Asylum Program matches LGBT and HIV-positive individuals with top law firms, pro bono, and their own 10-person legal team handles the most difficult cases. In addition to this direct representation, they also advocate for broad policy changes to protect and improve conditions for LGBT immigrants.

LGBT Asylum Program
Program Name

United States

Start date

Aaron Morris
Program Director


“Immigration Equality has a razor-sharp strategic focus—providing legal representation to LGBT people seeking asylum in the US. The importance of the representation—and of the organization’s success—is demonstrated by their impressive results,” said Sherryl Kuhlman, Managing Director of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative and Leadership Council member on the Human Rights & Social Justice board.

Results from the New York Immigrant Representation Study determined that an immigrant with a lawyer is six times more likely to win their case on the merits versus an immigrant without a lawyer (18% vs. 3%). When an immigrant has access to counsel and is not detained, their chances of success rise to 74%.

Through the free hotline, the legal team at Immigration Equality answered more than 7,700 calls from people seeking advice and representation in 2013 alone.

“Immigration Equality leverages a broad network of volunteer resources from the legal community—they create a system that can build on and learn from each individual success. Leverage, learn, multiply—these are hallmarks of organizations that create sustained impact, and are the reason that Immigration Equality merits the CLASSY Award,” said Kuhlman. “Behind the strategy and success statistics, however, are hundreds of lives saved by their work. In their home countries, the asylum seekers face cultural stigma, and often rejection by their friends and family.”

It’s a crime to be gay in 76 countries around the world. In these countries, LGBT people face violence and persecution solely because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression. For those who are able to come to the US to seek safety, the asylum process is difficult to navigate alone. LGBT people who flee violence abroad struggle with winning permanent freedom in the United States.

In the absence of the intervention by Immigration Equality, the LGBT individuals seeking asylum face long odds, and deportation back to their home countries can literally be life-threatening. Immigration Equality gives them a chance.
-Sherryl Kuhlman, Wharton Social Impact Initiative

Over the last 11 years, the LGBT Asylum program secured asylum for more than 600 LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants and have maintained a 99% win rate, while providing more than $15 million in free legal services every year.

“The entire Immigration Equality team is committed to representing and advocating on behalf of the LGBT and HIV-positive community,” says Aaron Morris, Legal Director of Immigration Equality. “Receiving a CLASSY is truly an honor. We rededicate ourselves to ensuring safety, dignity and equality for our community.”

Immigration Equality accepts their CLASSY Award live on stage, presented by Rachel Cohen Gerrol of PVBLIC Foundation

About Immigration Equality

Immigration Equality was founded in 1994 as the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force (LGIRTF). The organization recognized a growing demand for immigration education and advocacy targeted specifically toward LGBT and HIV-positive immigrant’s needs.

This demand stemmed from the 1990 repeal of the United States’ ban on the entry of gay immigrants and was further fueled by former Attorney General Janet Reno’s 1994 decision that sexual orientation was a valid basis for seeking asylum in the U.S. Since founding, they have grown from a volunteer-run organization to one with its own staff, offices and a constituency of thousands.

About the CLASSYs

Since it’s inception five years ago, the CLASSYs have recognized the efforts of thousands of exceptional organizations and individuals, providing public insight into our world’s greatest achievements. With the insight and participation of experts and institutions, the CLASSY Awards has established a new way of measuring social impact across causes at a global scale. This methodology provides insight into the program strategies, outputs, outcomes and growth of these bold solutions relative to the problem being addressed.

The yearlong initiative to discover the most innovative and effective models identifies and evaluates organizations in eight major cause categories, including Active Duty & Veteran Services, Animal & Wildlife Welfare, Educational Advancement, Environmental Protection, Health Services, Human Rights & Social Justice, Poverty & Hunger Relief, Disaster Relief & Public Safety.

CLASSY Awards Nominees are selected through an intensive evaluation process created and developed in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Center for High Impact Philanthropy. For the 5th Annual CLASSY Awards, organizations were evaluated through a five-step process that began with 3600 organizations. After a pre-application form was submitted, applicants completed a 20-minute phone interview. From there, those that passed were asked to complete a Nomination Profile in order to be eligible for a CLASSY Award. The Top 5 Nominees in each of the 25 cause categories were announced, narrowing the pool down from 3600 to 121. The 121 Nominees were then passed onto the Leadership Council, whose respective boards collectively determined the 25 Finalists and ultimately the 8 Winners.

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