Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Nathan Atkinson

Second Advisor

James Darsey

Third Advisor

Carol Winkler

Fourth Advisor

Anne Demo


In the following dissertation, I consider how the legal challenges faced by LGBTI refugees might compel reflection on and revision to traditional conceptions of citizenship in the United States. Specifically, I explore the question of how queer refugees and asylum seekers might alter – or queer – the meaning of “citizenship” in the United States. This project contributes to the conversation about citizenship in the field of rhetoric in multiple ways: (1) It highlights tensions between the cultural construction of citizenship and its legal parameters, (2) It expands rhetorical citizenship scholarship through attention to the intersection of identification, marginalization, and the political imaginary, and (3) It reveals tensions between norms of civic and sexual identity. It does this by tracing rhetorical precedent through a case study of sexual orientation and gender identity asylum in the United States.

I argue that LGBTI refugees and asylees can shape a queered discourse of citizenship, but that the discourse produced is limited based on narrow definitions of sexual orientation and identity categories. To make this argument, I analyze the precedent-setting case involving Fidel Armando Toboso-Alfonso, in which I address how the establishment of that case as precedent set in place norms of sexual identity that persist in the adjudication of LGBTI asylum cases today. Next, I look to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration training module for handling LGBTI asylum claims in order to make sense of the ways the norms set forth in the precedent-setting case have become codified and interrogated in current efforts to adjudicate LGBTI asylum claims. Finally, I compare visual representations of LGBTI asylum seekers to other refugees in order to understand how photographs of LGBTI asylum seekers fit within or rupture the genre of refugee photography. Taken together, these case studies provide insight into how citizenship is discursively imagined when access to citizen status is predicated on simultaneous normative and non-normative performances of sexual identity.