While LGBTQ people have long faced violence and persecution in the Middle East, conditions have worsened in recent years, particularly for those living in and around territories controlled by the Islamic State (ISIL). To help address this crisis, HRC hosted a summit on Thursday titled "Helping LGBTQ Refugees in the Age of ISIL."
Men accused of same-sex activity have been blindfolded and thrown off of buildings, stoned and subjected to unimaginable torture at the hands of ISIL. Countless others, including lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, remain closeted or underground for fear of retribution. HRC has committed to identifying solutions that will ease the path for LGBTQ people who flee ISIL-held areas and the violence that has seized the region more generally.
The half-day gathering heard remarks from U.S. government officials, refugee and asylum experts, advocates and an LGBTQ asylee from the Middle East. Participants were welcomed by HRC Global Director Ty Cobb, who introduced Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard. Richard, who heads the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, thanked HRC for “expanding its work beyond the shores of the United States” to address the needs of LGBTQ people abroad, including refugees and asylum seekers, “who need protection from bigotry and hate.”
Richard noted that stigma and fear of reprisals often prevent LGBTQ refugees from coming forward to seek help but that when they can be identified, the United States expedites processing of their cases and is working to make the process more nimble.
Next, HRC Global Deputy Director Jean Freedberg interviewed Kevin Schumacher, a Middle East expert at OutRight Action International, who identified criminalization laws and atrocious violence against LGBTQ people as the two key challenges in the region.
Schumacher added, “ISIL’s use of graphic images and videos of the murder of gay men seeks to raise the outfit’s credibility by showing they are capable of greater violence than competing groups.”
Schumacher also noted that LGBTQ issues are more often than not perceived through a Quranic and Biblical lens of sodomy, thus adding stigma to any discussion of sexual diversity and gender issues.
The event then proceeded with two panels - one focused on the challenges of making it easier for LGBTQ people to get out of the most dangerous areas, and the second focused on how to help them to settle in the United States. Participants then held conversations over lunch about what they and their organizations could do to help move this issue forward.
The event closed with “R,” an Iraqi asylum seeker whose identity was withheld to protect his safety, talking about the violence and bigotry he faced in his homeland, which caused him to flee to the United States.
"Being gay in Iraq was extremely tough and after a year of meticulous planning, I managed to flee. I was lucky because of my connections and relative affluence. Many of my friends were not so lucky and tens of them were exposed, caught and killed by militias. Those who are still in Iraq and want to leave are having a hard time unless they have access to resources, as it can be a costly process."
Learn more about HRC's work to strengthen the global LGBTQ equality movement through public education, advocacy, fellowships, partnerships and research by visiting www.hrc.org/Global.