President Obama has taken a significant step in guaranteeingthat 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 memorandumissued today, Obama directed all federal agencies engaged in actions abroad to“ensure that US diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the humanrights of LGBT persons” and outlined several specific steps to protectespecially vulnerable LGBT populations.
In particular, PHR commends Obama’s directive to theDepartments of State, Homeland Security, and Justice to ensure that LGBTrefugees and asylum seekers have “equal access to protection and assistance”from the US government. We hope that this commitment to ensuring that LGBTpersons around the world who face persecution and torture because of theirsexuality or gender identity will be followed up with concrete policies andpractices on the ground.
But while this memorandum will ideally result in increasedaccess to asylum and refugee status for LGBT persons around the world, theObama administration must also strengthen the protection of LGBT immigrants andasylum seekers in the US. Currently, LGBT asylum seekers face a high bar whenapplying for asylum, often being forced to prove that they were “out” in theirhome countries or having to demonstrate their “gayness” to an asylumadjudicator. And our nation’s broken immigration detention system hits the LGBTpopulation especially hard. LGBT detainees frequently face the worst the system has to offer: they are held in solitary confinement forlong periods of time, ostensibly for their own protection; they are harassedand threatened by law enforcement officials; and they are routinely subject tosexual assault by both law enforcement officers and other detainees.
This memorandum is a step in the right direction. But weurge the Obama administration to take a close look at the treatment of LGBTimmigrants and asylum seekers in the US and work to reform our nation’s brokenasylum and immigration detention systems, especially for the most vulnerable. Wecannot expect to credibly protect the human rights of LGBT persons abroad whenwe cannot do so at home.