HRC Blog

Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Baldwin Suggest Action on LGBT Refugees

LGBT-refugee-letterSen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, joined by 11 of their Senate colleagues and 31 of their House colleagues, have sent a letter [pdf] to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighting actions that can be taken by the State Department to address issues concerning foreign LGBT refugees. In the letter, the members of Congress explain that they became concerned about this issue after hearing about LGBT individuals from Iraq and Iran who have had to flee from their home countries because of violence and persecution. According to Human Rights Watch, there is no official number of deaths since the killing of LGBT individuals began in Iraq, but the U.N. has estimated that hundreds have died in 2009 alone. Said Congresswoman Baldwin:

"The lives of LGBT individuals in Iran and Iraq, as well as those LGBT refugees who have fled persecution, are in grave danger," said Congresswoman Baldwin. "I know Secretary of State Clinton shares our concerns for human rights and I hope she will use the full force of her office to respond to the plight of Iraqi and Iranian LGBT refugees and urge the UNHRC to do the same."

The letter includes the following suggested actions:

  • Engagement by U.S. Ambassadors on issues concerning foreign LGBT individuals and LGBT refugees;
  • Increased promotion of LGBT human rights by the U.N.;
  • Increased training on LGBT refugee issues for employees, contractors and implementing partners of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees; and
  • Improved processes for resettlement of LGBT individuals who face risks in their countries of first asylum.

 Said Senator Gillibrand:

“It is time for us in Congress to take a strong stand against all hate crimes and persecution - wherever they occur. People in this world should not have to suffer or fear for their lives because of who they are or what they believe in.  It is wrong and it must end.   If Iraq, Iran and other countries are not providing the legal protections that members of their LGBT communities are entitled to, it is our duty to join with our partners in the international community, enforce the human rights laws that protect us all, and free LGBT individuals from persecution.  While the ultimate goal is safe conditions in these countries, until that happens, the U.S., UN and the international community must ensure that LGBT refugees can reach safety in countries where they won't face persecution.”

Said HRC President Joe Solmonese:

"Senator Gillibrand and Congresswoman Baldwin’s letter highlights the difficulty that foreign lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) refugees face when their home countries, and their countries of first asylum, permit or condone discrimination and brutal attacks based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Secretary Clinton has said that LGBT rights are human rights and we agree. We look forward to working with the State Department, Senator Gillibrand, and Congresswoman Baldwin to ensure that U.S. foreign policy strongly supports protecting the human rights of LGBT individuals abroad."

In addition to Secretary Clinton, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano received a copy of the letter. Thanks to HRC Law Fellow Emilie Adams for her contributions to this post.

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