LGBTQ+ Writers Committee and partners give guidance on authentic representation.


With more than 26,400,000 refugees around the world, it’s estimated that more than 1,000,000 are LGBTQ+. The U.S. is one of the countries that accepts refugees through refugee resettlement programs—despite the decimation of said programs under the Trump administration and their continuing neglect under the Biden administration—and the U.S. currently has a goal of settling 125,000 refugees this year. But so far, less than 9,000 refugees from countries all over the world have been settled in the U.S. this year.

Oftentimes, refugees have to live in refugee camps for long periods of time—months, years, even the rest of their lives, while they attempt to navigate the impossibly difficult process of seeking asylum in the U.S., with essentially zero resources or amenities made available to them. Once resettled, LGBTQ+ refugees can find themselves in hostile U.S. communities, where they face safety concerns, misgendering, and prevalent identity-stripping (such as not having access to hormones, makeup, or hair products that are identity-affirming).

On April 27, the WGAW LGBTQ+ Writers Committee, Storyline Partners, Human Rights Campaign, and Amnesty International USA held a virtual panel event, “Addressing and Depicting LGBTQ+ Global Immigration Issues,” in which these and other issues were discussed. The panel explored current LGBTQ+ issues in global hotspots, including at our southern border. Representatives from HRC, Amnesty International USA, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and TransLatin@ Coalition shed light on the current stats and the challenges facing LGBTQ+ immigrants as they take on the process of relocating and redefining their lives.

Panelists Amrou Al-Kadhi (Little America) and Justin Spitzer (Superstore) discussed how current LGBTQ+ and immigration issues were explored in their shows and offered insight for other writers to explore and incorporate these stories in their own work. Additional panelists included Ty Cobb (HRC), Amy Fischer (Amnesty International USA), Guerline Jozef (Haitian Bridge Alliance), and Alma Rosa (TransLatin@ Coalition).

“I can’t imagine a better and more challenging time to have this conversation…particularly about the border,” said Fischer, who pointed out that you can’t begin the process of seeking asylum in the U.S. (or any country) until your foot is on U.S. soil. Fischer said that around 2014–2015, there was a significant increase of Central Americans arriving to the U.S. southern border, at which point we started to see a crackdown on the right to seek asylum—both aimed at deterring asylum-seekers, and punishing those who were already here.

“These policies are not colorblind and are not implemented equally,” Fischer continued, noting that Ukrainian asylum-seekers in the U.S. have been granted exception to some of the preventative policies. “It’s a system based on cruelty.”

And the conditions many asylum-seekers are forced to “wait” in while they navigate the process, can be particularly cruel and dangerous to those who are LGBTQ+.

Spitzer noted that when writing the storyline for the Superstore character Mateo, who is gay and finds out he’s undocumented, “We never set out to do an important or topical story.” It can be hard to find the comedy if you’re writing with an objective in mind, such as the goal to open hearts and minds on a topic like this.

Amrou Al-Kadhi, a drag queen, actor, screenwriter, and author, noted that there is a lot of “trauma porn” on mainstream TV, in which stories about refugees or immigrants are told with a lot of “dramatic prestige” and focus on the trauma the characters went through, or why they wanted to come to the U.S., rather than the things they will miss from their countries of origin and the loved ones they are leaving behind. Al-Kadhi said that rather than writing with the objective of having a conservative viewer change their way of thinking after watching the show, he co-wrote the final episode of Apple’s Little America by focusing on the humanity and joy in the character, who is a refugee, navigating the everyday.

“Even when you’re going through it, you’re not wallowing in trauma every second of every day,” Al-Kadhi said.

Below are some things to keep in mind when writing and framing stories about migrants:

Framing That’s Needed

  • Seeking asylum is a human right.
  • Depict how LGBTQ+ immigrants and asylum-seekers can thrive with the support of their community. LGBTQ+ people seeking safety can be processed and then connected to community-based nonprofits in the communities in which they will live. LGBTQ+ asylum-seekers need community support, lawyers, and social services—not criminalization, detention, and deportation.
  • Frame LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum-seekers as multidimensional people with their own stories, connections, talents, and skills. Portray them as empowered and not dependent. They don’t have to be the protagonist, but they must be protagonists of their own stories. Illustrate individuality as they should not be defined simply by their trauma or violation of their rights.
  • Consult and listen to the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum-seekers in their own words.
  • The LGBTQ+ refugee, asylum-seeker, and asylee community is diverse and intersectional. LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers come to the U.S. from every region of the world, representing every race, religion, and facet of the LGBTQ+ community. The experience of seeking asylum varies from person to person. An LGBTQ+ asylum seeker may enter the U.S. on a student visa or other type of visa and files for asylum in the U.S. after publicly identifying as a member of the community via social media or queer gatherings and associations, making it dangerous to return to a country where they may face persecution for those activities. Others may enter the U.S. for the express purpose of filing an asylum claim to escape persecution.
  • LGBTQ+ Black, Indigenous, and other racialized people bear the brunt of harsh and punitive immigration enforcement policies and practices. Black migrants in particular have faced disparate and often inhumane treatment in the US immigration system.
  • Create storylines where the LGBTQ+ immigrant community can thrive if the U.S. expands pathways to protection to respond to the most marginalized and at-risk refugees, including through community sponsorship, humanitarian parole, and other pathways.
  • Portray how LGBTQ+ asylum seekers need swift access to work permits and means for supporting their livelihood while waiting for a final determination of their ability to remain in the U.S. They are not “taking advantage of the system.”
  • Focus on the story of a LGBTQ+ refugee, asylum seeker, asylee, or family. The mind is better tasked with focusing on one person or family to elicit empathy rather than with large groups of people.
  • Normalize LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers. They can be integrated into scripts as a featured appearance or in a preexisting character backstory.
  • Focus on stories that depict the future we want to see with refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Show audiences in the U.S. how they can be part of the solution to destigmatizing and embracing refugees and asylum seekers. Dismantle the fear narratives.
  • Immigrants contribute positively to U.S. society as evidenced both culturally and economically.
  • Refugees and asylum seekers are not national security threats.