Issues Regarding LGBTQ Refugees and individuals seeking Asylum

Meaghan A. Culkeen, Staff Member

Terminology and Sensitivity Issues:

Sexual orientation- An individual’s capacity for emotional and sexual attraction regardless of previous actions or partners. "Who you love"

Gender Identity(ID)-the deeply felt gender, not necessarily the gender assigned at birth. "Who you are"

LGBTIQ- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer. Not one community, but  several different communities with different background, struggles, experiences, and needs.

Lesbian- a woman who is physically, emotionally, and romantically attracted to another woman.

Gay- a man who is physically, emotionally, and romantically attracted to another man.

Also sometimes used as a term to refer to entire LGBTIQ community.

Bisexual- a person whose physical, emotional, and romantic attraction is to both men and woman

Sex- refers to the physical reproductive organs one has.

Gender- a psychological, personally-felt identification in the spectrum of gender.

Transgender- an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender

expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Intersex- an umbrella term covering differences of sexual development, which

can consist of diagnosable congenital  conditions in which development of

anatomic, chromosomal, or gonadal sex is atypical.

Queer- An umbrella term encompassing a variety of sexual orientations and gender identities excluding heterosexuality. The term was originally used as a slur but has been reclaimed by the LGBT community to also refer to political ideologies and sexual/gender expressions not adhering to a gender-binary

Homophobic- a policy or ideal that discriminates against LGBTIQ individuals

Ally: Refers to individuals who support and advocate for a community of which they are not members.

Heterosexual: Describes an individual whose enduring physical, romantic, and/or

emotional attraction is to someone of the opposite sex.

Heterosexism: Describes institutionalized oppression against non-heterosexual

individuals and experiences.

Internalized homophobia- a homosexual individual who feels shame and self-hatred because of societal pressures.

Transphobia: Refers to hostility, negative attitudes, and/or fear directed at transgender individuals.

- Gender and Sexual orientation exist on a spectrum, and are often not simply one or another but are somewhere in between existing labels.

-Most LGBT individuals describe their sexual orientation as being inherent. Choice plays a role in whether an individual decides to live openly as LGBT. LGBT refugees may not feel as if they ever had a choice to liven openly as it could have resulted in their persecution.

-Bisexual individuals are not confused about their sexuality. Some people wrongly believe that bisexual individuals will transition from being bisexual to lesbian or gay; while this may be the case in some instances, most bisexuals will live their entire lives attracted to both males and females

-LGBT individuals are more susceptible to mental illness or substance abuse, but this is a result of the isolation, hostility, or discrimination they endure as LGBT individuals, not because of any predisposition based on sexual orientation or gender identity

-Cross dresser is the preferred term over transvestite.

-If the person identifies as female, feminine pronouns should be used. Transgender individuals though may circumstantially alternate what pronouns they prefer, depending on where they are and how they are feeling. If someone identifies as transgender, it is best to ask them what pronouns they prefer

-Gender identity is different from sexual orientation. One’s gender identity does not determine who one is sexually attracted to. Transgender individuals may identify as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

-Regardless of personal feelings, supporting LGBT participants is human rights work and is part of providing culturally-competent resettlement services as mandated by the US Government. As a practical matter, assigning case workers who are more comfortable with LGBT persons to work with those program participants may make all  more comfortable, but all refugee resettlement workers have an obligation to create a safe and welcoming environment for all refugees, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.


In addition to being known as America’s most LGBTI friendly President, in December 2011, President Obama issued a memorandum creating a strategy for U.S. government agencies to combat LGBT human rights abuses internationally. He states that all agencies that are engaged abroad should be making an effort to improve the rights and quality of life of LGBT individuals.

There are an estimated 175,000 people in danger in their home countries due to sexual orientation or HIV status. Of these 175,000 individuals, an estimated 18,000 seek asylum worldwide. Of these 175,000 individuals, only about 200 are resettled as refugees each year worldwide. This is no way means that there are only 200 LGBT refugees, but that only 200 of them are resettled solely for this reason.

The UNHCR, USCIS office for Asylum or Executive Office for Immigration Review does not track LGBT status. This is because none of these resettlement agencies want to “tip off” the country of an individual’s origin. Often times LGBT refugees need to be resettled into a third country because the second country, or refugee camp in which they are sent, is just as dangerous as their home country. This is also a major problem, as the resettlement process takes too long for most urgent cases. LGBT refugees have a double marginality- isolated from state protection, because of their sexual orientation or HIV status, and by the overwhelming societal pressures.

There is a high rate of depression, substance abuse and suicide among the LGBT community due the prejudices in the world. Open hatred and outward disapproval of LGBT individual’s leads to internalized homophobia.

No matter what is said, homosexuality is not a choice. Homosexuals make the choice whether to be open with their sexuality or not, although in many regions of the world they do not have this right.

It is a myth that homosexuality is a western idea. This is untrue, as societies throughout the entire world and throughout time have members who show homosexual tendencies. Some areas of the world however, may not be familiar with these terms and may not categorize sexuality. Nepal is one such example. In Nepal, they do not use the terms LGBT, but see a gender nonconforming individual as being “twin spirited.”

Countries that are the most dangerous for LGBTIQ Individuals

Only nine countries on Earth have no official, institutionalized, homophobic discrimination or heterosexism. They are; Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Sweden, Spain, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and South Africa.

This is not to say, however, there are no discrimination issues in these countries. What is most troublesome about this kind of discrimination is that often times, countries with strong anti-homosexual laws are not the most dangerous. It is not necessarily the government that is discriminating against this population, but the citizens as well. This is what makes refugee status difficult to prove necessary- as often times governments have no official stance on homosexuality.

The seven most dangerous countries for LGBTIQ’s, as defined by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are Cameroon, Egypt, Honduras, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and South Africa.

Examples of Specific Abuses in Dangerous Countries:

Uganda -lesbian "corrective rape"

-cases of men locked in home and burned alive

-Teen escaped before being sent for an honor killing

- Those associated with LGBT individuals reported being abducted, beaten/raped.

- Police abuse, threat to arrest, denied access to NGO, local offices on

-Police killings of known homosexuals, as federal government can’t.

Kenya  -5 year jail sentences for consensual sex between two men

-“corrective tapes”

-Demonization of homosexuals and misinforming the public about LGBT

Brazil  -Highest transgender killing rate in world

South Africa -High rate of blackmailing, for political or social gain, against homosexual men

Iraq  -Homosexual killing campaigns in 2009 and 2012

Further Reading and organizations:

The Gray Area of Gay Refugees

Jonathan Kalan

December 1, 2011

Road to Safety; Strengthening Protection for LGBTI Refugees in Uganda & Kenya

Duncan Breen, Author/Head Researcher

Human Rights First

See also, Equality Talks w/ HRC and HRF. Video available online

LGBT refugees need expedited resettlement system

Alex Pearlman

May 18, 2012






Human Rights First


Chart of countries where Homosexuality is illegal