Thursday, January 24, 2019

Refugees and LGBT

Scars left from a homophobic assault that left this man near death and his boyfriend dead. 

When Rocks in your Shoes Follow You From Home: 
LGBT+ Refugees, Their Continued Experience 
of LGBT-Focused Discrimination, and One Way We Can Help
Sam Nelsen, MNA student

A recent class in Rome led me to explore the lives of LGBT+ refugees, lives already challenging and which are made more dangerous by being LGBT+ - even when reaching “safe” host countries: 72 countries criminalize same-sex relationships, death penalty follows in eight, and in many others cultural norms make life extremely dangerous. Donating to nonprofits/NGOs (including ORAM) that strive to support LGBT+ refugees throughout the process is one of the main tangible things individuals can do to help this exceptionally vulnerable minority population.

As a gay, white, middle-class, cis male who grew up in a stable two-parent household in a progressive region, I come from a place of significant privilege. I never wondered where my next meal would come from. My family and I never faced risk of life or limb due to war, beliefs, or regional instability. Although I had my own struggles with coming to terms with being gay, I never experienced physical violence because of my sexuality, never faced overtly-threatening religious abuse or spiritual terrorism by my pastors or fellow congregants, and was never threatened by or experienced sexual assault or rape.

The same can’t be said of many LGBT+ refugees, who may not only be fleeing their home country due to something in the common narrative (war, famine, natural disaster, political or social persecution, etc.), but also due to them being LGBT+. The challenging factor is that those resident religious or cultural beliefs move with the refugees as the region’s populations shift: those fleeing for their lives from one country to another country’s camp (or rural area) may face exactly the same hatred, ignorance, and violence.

Of the 68.5 million forced-displaced people around the world, 40 million live in their home country. Developing countries are home to 85% of the world’s refugees, with the most dangerous countries for LGBT+ people being clustered around the Middle East, southern and east Africa, and south Asia; four fifths of refugees escape from home to next door countries. In essence, a vast number of refugees remain in regions, or remain surrounded by fellow refugees, with negative environments. Although not specific to the LGBT+ experience, one of our speakers had gone through a harrowing back-and-forth between her home and a neighboring country until she was finally able to escape to Italy; other organizations described the complexity and stress of the regular process.

Many LGBT+ refugees also fear revealing their sexuality or gender identity when seeking help due to risk to themselves or to their loved ones, making it difficult to meet the requests of officials trying to verify refugee status (and difficult for nonprofits to identify the LGBT+ refugees in order to offer assistance). Personal beliefs or ignorance, if not policies, on the part of officials processing refugees’ paperwork may further complicate or endanger the process. Multiple organizations (including ORAM) are striving to fill these gaps, assist LGBT+ refugees, and/or assist in providing education for staff. We need to fund them too.