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PHR Commends the Administration’s Action on Protecting LGBT Refugees and Urges It to Do More

Mike Corradini, JD on December 7, 2011

President Obama has taken a significant step in guaranteeing that the US does its part to ensure that the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons around the world are protected. In a memorandum issued today, Obama directed all federal agencies engaged in actions abroad to “ensure that US diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons” and outlined several specific steps to protect especially vulnerable LGBT populations.

In particular, PHR commends Obama’s directive to the Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Justice to ensure that LGBT refugees and asylum seekers have “equal access to protection and assistance” from the US government. We hope that this commitment to ensuring that LGBT persons around the world who face persecution and torture because of their sexuality or gender identity will be followed up with concrete policies and practices on the ground.

But while this memorandum will ideally result in increased access to asylum and refugee status for LGBT persons around the world, the Obama administration must also strengthen the protection of LGBT immigrants and asylum seekers in the US. Currently, LGBT asylum seekers face a high bar when applying for asylum, often being forced to prove that they were “out” in their home countries or having to demonstrate their “gayness” to an asylum adjudicator. And our nation’s broken immigration detention system hits the LGBT population especially hard. LGBT detainees frequently face the worst the system has to offer: they are held in solitary confinement for long periods of time, ostensibly for their own protection; they are harassed and threatened by law enforcement officials; and they are routinely subject to sexual assault by both law enforcement officers and other detainees.

This memorandum is a step in the right direction. But we urge the Obama administration to take a close look at the treatment of LGBT immigrants and asylum seekers in the US and work to reform our nation’s broken asylum and immigration detention systems, especially for the most vulnerable. We cannot expect to credibly protect the human rights of LGBT persons abroad when we cannot do so at home.

Places: United States