A lesbian soldier who deserted the US Army after claiming she had been physically abused and threatened has won the right to have her asylum case reviewed in Canada.

Private Bethany Smith, 21, also known as Skylar James, said other soldiers at her unit in Fort Campbell, Ky, discovered she was a lesbian after seeing her holding hands with another woman.

She claimed that she then received death threats and was regularly pushed to the ground.

Smith fled to Canada after being denied a discharge and applied for asylum, which was rejected in February. She claims her request for a discharge was denied because the Army was short of personnel for an Afghanistan deployment.

Last week, a Canadian court ordered the Canadian immigration board to review her claim, AFP reports.

Judge Yves de Montigny said the board was mistaken in dismissing allegations of harassment against gay and lesbian soldiers.

Smith’s lawyer Jamie Liew believes that if returned to the US, Smith will not only fear for her life but will also face military charges of desertion, absence without leave and indecency.

The indecency charge would arise from Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which makes engaging in homosexual activity a crime. It also means gay military personnel must keep their sexual orientation secret.

There are thought to be around 200 US military deserters in Canada, although Smith is believed to be the first gay servicemember to request asylum. As yet, none of the 200 have been granted the right.