More people than ever before in human history have been displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Right now, a staggering 20 people are displaced from their homes every minute of every day, adding up to 65.6 million people. Of these, 22.5 million are refugees; fewer than 200,000 of these were resettled in recent years. LGBTQ people are among these millions who have fled from their homes and are seeking permanent status.
In fact, LGBTQ refugees are among the most vulnerable because they are subjected to discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in their home countries, in refugee camps, by resettlement agencies, and upon arrival in a new country. The US State Department says, “LGBT refugees may flee their countries due to persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, or for the same reasons as any other refugee – such as ethnic conflict, political unrest, or the lack of religious freedom. However, in countries where they seek safety, LGBT refugees often risk being harassed, hurt, or even killed. They may be targeted by other refugees, host communities, or government officials and police, who may threaten to arrest and detain them.”
Many refugees seek out others from their own countries and cultures; LGBTQ refugees often avoid others with similar backgrounds for fear of discrimination or violence aimed against them or their families back home. (Read more about that That means that even if they find a host country, they are left without the same connections and support that other refugees can rely on.
LGBTQ-affirming communities of faith can join others in providing critical support for refugees and asylees. According to ORAM, the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration, “Faith-based organizations are uniquely positioned to provide support for LGBTI refugees because they are committed to doing good unto others. Their fellowship often transcends racial, cultural, economic, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other boundaries. Faith-based organizations also serve as a crucial resource to refugees seeking social integration.” ORAM has produced a helpful and comprehensive guide, Rainbow Bridges: A Community Guide to Rebuilding the Lives of LGBTI Refugees and Asylees, which details specific actions that community groups can take. They have a section with ideas particularly geared for communities of faith.
Some of the ways you can help:
- Support LGBTQ refugees and asylees in your local area by offering practical help, such as food, clothing, bicycles, networking for jobs, places to live etc. Here is a story about a United Church of Christ congregation who helped Ugandan refugees settle in their area.
- Talk with local agencies that support refugees to see if they offer services for LGBTQ refugees. For inspiration, read about a refugee from Russia who became a volunteer with the Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay and worked with LGBTQ refugees.
- Raise funds for groups that support LGBTQ immigration and refugee issues, such as
- Learn about the impact of recent US travel bans. For example, CNN’s “US travel ban leaves LGBT refugees in limbo.”
- Contact your member of Congress and advocate for compassionate immigration policies that support asylum claims and refugee resettlement for those facing discrimination and violence because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.