Meet Our Team
Okan Sengun, Esq.
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Okan Sengun is the Executive Director and Co-founder of the LGBT Asylum Project, the leading San Francisco-based nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to providing legal representation for LGBTQ+ immigrants who are fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the United States. The LGBT Asylum Project is the very first immigration law group to be located in the historic Castro, a beacon of hope just across the rainbow crosswalk.
Okan is also the founding attorney of Okan Immigration Law Group, a private law group that handles marriage-based green card and naturalization applications as well as asylum cases based on political opinion, race, nationality and religion.
Okan served as the San Francisco Asylum Office Liaison, the LGBT Coordinator and on the Advisory Council of American Immigration Lawyers Association, Northern California Chapter between 2012 and 2018.
Okan Sengun serves as a panel attorney at AIDS Legal Referral Panel (ALRP) and was awarded as the “Attorney of the Year” in 2016 by the AIDS Legal Referral Panel.
Okan is also a mentor immigration attorney at Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and he is a member of Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom (BALIF). Okan worked at several non-profit organizations and law firms in California and Turkey prior to starting Okan Immigration Law Group and the LGBT Asylum Project. Okan is admitted to New York Bar and U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit.
Brooke A. Westling, Esq.
Co-Founder and Legal Director
Brooke Westling is a California-licensed attorney who is dedicated to fighting human rights abuses by challenging social and legal constraints on gender and sexuality. She first realized the crucial need for greater social awareness and legal advocacy in this realm after serving as a high-school peer group facilitator, addressing gender and sexuality biases among high school students, as an undergrad at The Ohio State University. After graduating with a BA in Psychology, Political Science, and Women's Studies, Brooke went on to obtain a JD from Capital University Law School in 2009 then relocated to the Bay Area. In 2015, she received her LL.M. in International Legal Studies from Golden Gate University School of Law, where she focused on human rights. Brooke began working on asylum cases with Okan Sengun in January of 2015. The two co-founded the Center for Immigrant Protection in order to alleviate the financial burden placed on their clients. Brooke currently serves as a Panel Attorney for the Aids Legal Referral Panel, is a member of BALIF (Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom) and of the Policy Subcommittee of Women Get It Done. She is also a member of the State Bar of California.
Gervy Jhon Tesoro
Jhon is a long-time immigrant rights activist who started his career in advocacy with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) as a Development Coordinator.
After graduating law school, Jhon worked in various high volume immigration defense firms in San Francisco, representing clients in immigration court, and matters within the jurisdiction of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Additionally, Jhon’s appellant experience includes writing appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO). During this time, Jhon has also served as Of Counsel for numerous private attorneys in relation to obtaining predicate orders in state probate and family courts in eight counties, for immigrant minors applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile visas.
After six years of private practice, Jhon served as an Assistance Chief Counsel, with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). During his tenure at the DHS, Jhon received valuable training to ensure immigration laws are enforced equitably and applying legal strategies allowing for all parties to be treated with respect and dignity during all stages of litigation.
Jhon proudly joins the LGBT Asylum Project as a deportation defense attorney, representing Trans, and Gender Non-Conforming members of the community facing deportation. He is thrilled to apply more than eight years of legal experience, to serve the legal needs of the LGBTQ+ community.
Director of Operations
Kenan is an LGBTQ+ activist/artist and has been working on LGBTQ+ issues for more than 10 years both in Turkey and in the United States. Currently, he is the Director of Operations at the LGBT Asylum Project. He was born and raised in Gaziantep, Turkey, and moved to the U.S. in 2013. He enjoys being active & connected in multiple arts and community programs. In addition to The LGBT Asylum Project, he is a resident makeup designer for Golden Thread Productions, an active member of Drunk Drag Broadway and a singing member of San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus.
Chava has been a Paralegal with the LGBT Asylum Project since 2020 and has an extensive background in arts education. They have 20-plus years of LGBTQ activism under their belt and uses interchangeable pronouns (she/they/he). Chava was born and raised in the Los Angeles area by two wonderful immigrant parents, but now resides in the SF Bay Area with their loving husband and two energetic cats. As a bilingual (English/Spanish) Paralegal, Chava brings their passion for immigrant rights and building strong community relationships to the table. In their spare time, Chava enjoys drawing, playing board games, gardening, and practicing their Italian language skills.
Immigration Removal Defense Paralegal
Rachael joined the LGBT Asylum Project team in August 2022 as an Immigration Removal Defense Paralegal. Her deep interest in social justice and human rights issues along with her experience working as a lead paralegal and legal researcher on immigration matters provides her with keen insight and a unique perspective. She is a certified Spanish-English Community Interpreter that graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Geography. Over the years, she has partnered with diverse organizations that share her value to advocate for and support underserved communities.
Development and Communications Coordinator
Andres Molina graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with a degree in Marketing. He takes great pride working at the intersection of immigration and LGBTQ+ rights. As Communications Coordinator at The LGBT Asylum Project, he's looking forward to directing people to the right resources and get them the help they need. When he's not replying to your messages on social media, Andres directs and edits YouTube videos. Like and subscribe!
SF Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA) DreamSF Fellow
Kassandra is a Latina immigrant from Mexicali, Baja California. She grew up in Southern California but moved to the Bay to start her professional experience, starting as a DreamSF Fellow for the LGBT Asylum Project. She has her B.A. in Sociology from the University of California, Riverside. Her professional goal has always been to work with immigrants and help them find the resources necessary to help them in their migration journey. Outside of her professional interests, she has a keen eye for anything fashion and makeup art. In short, Kassandra is a Pisces who enjoys meeting new people, making new friends, and helping members of her community.
Tay is from Portland, Oregon and moved to the Bay for her higher education as a graduate student at the University of San Francisco’s Masters in Migration Studies Program. She received her undergraduate from the University of Oregon in Cultural Anthropology. Her research and academic interests are on the manifestation of migration trauma and the power of healing. She hopes to continue on with her PhD in the Anthropology of Migration. Tay teaches trauma-informed yoga to veterans, spends lots of time with her golden retriever Scout and enjoys traveling to new places!
Dodi Gomez Paloma, Esq.
Dodi was born and raised in Naples, Italy. In 2013, she moved to San Francisco to attend Golden Gate University School of Law. While in law school, as an immigrant herself, Dodi was attracted to the field of immigration law, which she explored by taking courses, pursuing pertinent internships, and volunteering at naturalization clinics. Through 2016, Dodi proudly served on the LGBT Asylum Project’s first Board of Directors.
Upon passing the California Bar Exam, Dodi worked for an immigration firm where she mainly focused on affirmative asylum cases. In 2020, Dodi attended a few asylum interviews for clients of the LGBT Asylum Project; she is always happy to help fellow immigrants, in particular asylum seekers, as she believes everyone deserves to live fully and safely.
Colin is an LGBT activist and an attorney. He represents injured workers in workers’ compensation claims filed in California. He has been a certified specialist in workers’ compensation since 2009 and has over 15 years’ experience having represented employers and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation cases. In his spare time, he is a marathon runner.
Rod is a Planning Analyst and Project Manager for the San Francisco Human Services Agency - or as his wife likes to describe him, a starry-eyed bureaucrat à la Leslie Knope of the TV show Parks and Rec. Rod also serves as the president of the board of Community Awareness and Treatment Services, one of the oldest and most central behavioral health treatment organizations in the city for homeless persons. He has a J.D. from Golden Gate University and prior to working for the City, worked in grant and contract management at UCSF, as well as at La Raza Centro Legal, where he provided legal advocacy services to low-income immigrants. He is passionate about serving the public interest, with a particular commitment for immigrant and LGBT rights.
Douglas Pinter is an entrepreneur and lawyer with a passion for justice and fairness. Pinter is experienced in finding solutions to the business and legal aspects of new ideas and new enterprises. He applies those skills to helping entrepreneurs succeed. His pro bono efforts focus on representing affirmative asylum petitioners with a thorough, substantiated presentation of their request in the US immigration system.
Daniel is a Brazilian immigrant living in the United States since 2018; he is a proud member of the LGBT community and an enthusiastic volunteer for the LGBT Asylum Project. Having lived in Brazil, Argentina, Italy, and the United States, he is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and English. Because Daniel is a Chemical Engineer by profession, he always wondered how he could give back to his communities – both LGBT and immigrant. This question was fortuitously answered when he accidentally passed the LGBT Asylum Project’s office on a weekend walk and saw a flyer seeking translators. Since that day, he has finally been able to help by interpreting and doing translations for LGBT asylum seekers.
Jim Soos has been a proud volunteer at the LGBT Asylum Project since October 2019. He
appreciates working with clients as well as helping the Asylum Project with behind the scenes
projects. Jim has a bachelors degree in Sociology from the University of Michigan and masters
degrees in Public Health and Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley. After
working for 27 years in public health and health care administration, Jim retired in 2018 and has
been looking for meaningful ways to spend his time. He is an immigrant from Canada and his
husband is an immigrant from Turkey, so he is sensitive to the need for just and compassionate
Mel Stenger is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. After coming out he moved to the
San Francisco Bay Area and worked in health insurance. Disillusioned with the
corporate world, he became an elementary educator with degrees and credentials in
Multiple Subjects and School Administration. He has taught high school, middle
school, elementary, and graduate school, and has been an elementary principal. He
has been with his partner since 1982 and were among the first to adopt infants
through Alameda County. Their two sons are now adults. After his retirement in
2017, Mel continues to indulge his lifelong passions of gardening, singing (with
the Golden Gate Men's Chorus) and cooking fabulous dinners, and pursuing new
interests in Country Western dancing and photography. He has volunteered with
the LGTB Asylum Project since October, 2019.
- Clark Ludlow
- John Herbstritt
- Samantha Wilkinson