US Addresses Barriers Faced By Sexual Minority Refugees

Sexual minority refugees can be the targets of violence

Highlighting that President Obama has promoted the equal rights of LGBT people both at home and abroad, the United States of America today expressed commitment to address barriers faced by sexual minority refugees.

In her remarks on “Invisible in the City”: Hebrew Immigrant Aid Services Research in Washington DC, Assistant Secretary Anne C. Richard says the US Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration has an important leadership role to play in this effort.

She says one of their fundamental goals is to ensure that the global system for refugee protection responds to the needs of all refugees – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

U.S. President Barack Obama signs into law the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010.

The Department has taken steps to ensure gay and other sexual minority refugees are protected by officers of the U.S. Government and by US partners in the US refugee resettlement program.

Sexual minority refugees can be the targets of violence

According to Ms. Richard, sexual minority refugees are victims of violence in their countries of asylum, or are unable to request assistance and may be isolated from the established refugee protection architecture.

The US is actively seeking solutions to prevent this isolation and shield all refugees from violence. In some extreme situations, the US resettles urgent cases in dire need of protection.

In addition, refugees and asylum seekers are already in a precarious position and they are at risk of exploitation, attack, and destitution.

“A refugee who is also part of a sexual minority is at even greater risk.” – Ms. Richard

How US addresses the needs of the sexual minority refugees

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According Ms. Richard, the US Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migrationto supports training of all refugee protection staff from the DC-based program officer to the regional Refugee Coordinator to the UNHCR case worker – on how to actively include sexual minorities in our plans and programs.

“We support the USCIS mandate that all officers get training in the adjudication of LGBT refugees and asylum claimants.” – Ms. Richard

The training includes increased awareness about the issues sexual minorities face.

She says these officers now get consistent legal and interview guidance regarding these issues.

US supports humanitarian responses that meet the specific needs of LGBT refugees.

Ms. Richard narrates that a man currently living in Baghdad, Iraq was subjected to continuous death threats, beaten and forced to take female hormones by his father who thought he should live as a woman because he was born with some of the physical features of a woman.

The man was forced to stay inside to avoid being persecuted by the larger Iraqi community, causing psychological damage.

Since 2006, the man has been separated from his long-term partner who lives in the U.S.

In 2008, this person was detained, threatened and interrogated by border security when he tried to leave Iraq for gender reassignment surgery.

Ms. Richard says the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), which has people on the ground in Iraq who work specifically with persecuted Iraqis on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, referred the case to the U.S. Embassy.

However, the US embassy will make it possible to travel directly to the United States in order to reduce the risks of traveling to another country while he waits for the resettlement process to run its course.

Currently, the man has completed his medical check and is awaiting his security check in order to travel to the U.S. and be reunited with his partner.

US supports urban refugee protection programs that aim to reach LGBT refugsees where they live and work.

According to Ms. Richard, UNHCR is now working in Kenya with senior police officials to address concerns such as harassment, extortion and violence that specifically targets LGBT refugees. The proactive engagement of UNHCR helps lessen the fear of arrest LGBT refugees have when reporting crimes to the police.

She says that what these few examples show is the bureau and the leadership of the State Department as a whole believe that advancing the human rights of LGBT individuals is a critical diplomatic goal requiring our broadest efforts.

“We are urging countries to respect the human rights of all of their citizens.” – Ms. Richard

US committed to uphold the rights of LGBTs

President Obama’s Memorandum of December 2011 affirmed United States’s commitment to promoting the human rights of sexual minorities and specifically directed U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance agencies to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

In addition, former Secretary Hillary Clinton stated that gay rights are human rights in her landmark LGBTI speech in Geneva in 2011.

“We all acknowledge this universal truth: that everyone, regardless of race, religion, nationality, class or sexual identity is equal and is entitled to equal protection.” – Ms. Richard

Today, the United States Government is working very hard, across agencies, to make sure that happens.

Obama Issues Presidential Memorandum to Protect Human Rights of LGBTs

Since taking office, President Obama has demonstrated that his vision for a brighter future includes greater equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Americans. The President and this Administration are dedicated to eliminating barriers to equality, fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and engaging LGBT communities across the country.

The Administration’s dedication to LGBT rights does not stop at our borders, as the President made clear at the United Nations in September of this year when he said: “no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”

President Obama has issued a presidential memorandum that directs all federal agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons. Under the Obama Administration, agencies have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere. And now, following an interagency process coordinated by the National Security Staff, this memorandum directs the first-ever U.S. government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad. Today’s memorandum applies to the Departments of State, the Treasury, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, the United States Trade Representative, and such other agencies as the President may designate.

The memorandum directs agencies to:

  • Combat the criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad.
  • Protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.
  • Ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad.
  • Engage International Organizations in the fight against LGBT discrimination.
  • Report on progress.

    Even before today’s memo, U.S. agencies have been working to protect and promote the rights of LBGT persons around the world. Since January 2009, Secretary Clinton has directed the Department of State to champion a comprehensive human rights agenda – one that includes the protection of LGBT people.

    Around the world, the State Department is:

  • Engaging- bilaterally and regionally in conjunction with U.S. embassies, civil society, and multilateral agencies to encourage countries to repeal or reform laws that criminalize LGBT conduct or status.
  • Reinforcing the human rights of LGBT people in multilateral fora, such as the UN Human Rights Council. In June 2011, the United States joined South Africa and a cross-regional group of co-sponsors in passing the first-ever UN Human Rights Council resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons.
  • Promoting human rights worldwide. U.S. embassies are declaring the United States’ support for the human rights of LGBT people through innovative public diplomacy. Ambassadors and embassies have hosted public discussions and private roundtables, published op-eds and supported Pride events.

    Supporting LGBT human rights defenders and civil society groups, with programmatic and financial assistance, including efforts to document human rights violations; build advocacy skills; provide advocates with legal representation; and, when necessary, relocation support.

  • Reporting on the conditions of human rights of LGBT people in each of its annual, country-specific Human Rights Reports.
  • Strengthening the Department’s personnel and consular policies. The Secretary extended the range of legally available benefits and allowances to same-sex domestic partners of foreign service staff serving abroad. The United States also incorporated gender identity into federal equal employment opportunity policies in 2010.
  • Protecting LGBT refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants through a protection strategy developed with other U.S. Government agencies, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and NGOs.
  • Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.