Civil society organizations call on states to create more dedicated pathways and programs to help LGBTQI+ people who are at risk of persecution, including humanitarian and development funding as well as resettlement pathways. Building sustained relationships with LGBTQI+ civil society and leveraging the expertise of LGBTQI+-led organizations is key to accessing and identifying at-risk LGBTQI+ forcibly displaced persons in need of durable solutions.
With more than 110 million displaced people in the world, we are collectively experiencing a global refugee crisis of unprecedented scale. We are also witnessing an ongoing injustice that is a compounding risk factor for LGBTQI+ people: 63 states around the world criminalize same-sex intimacy and, as a result, at-risk LGBTQI+ people often face systemic barriers to accessing safety within the existing global refugee and asylum system. For LGBTQI+ individuals, drivers of displacement such as conflict, climate disaster and political instability bring pre-existing persecutory conditions sharply into focus. In countries of origin, transit and host countries, LGBTQI+ communities are exposed to hate-motivated violence from state and non-state actors, as well as discrimination when crossing international borders and hostility when accessing basic services. Existing protection mechanisms fail to effectively respond to the unique vulnerabilities experienced by LGBTQI+ people, often rendering available pathways to safety inaccessible to people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identities and sex characteristics.
UNHCR’s 2021 Roundtable Summary Conclusions note that forcibly displaced LGBTIQ+ people “experience multiple, compounding and intersecting stigmatizations and abuse, including… stigmatization related to both their diverse SOGIESC and their migration status”. The conclusions also note that LGBTIQ+ people continue to face “similar or higher risks of homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and endosexist violence from both nationals of the host country as well as from other displaced people,” which are further exacerbated by “xenophobic hostility, misogyny, irregular migration status, socioeconomic marginalization, isolation from traditional support networks and trauma-induced physical and emotional duress.”
Despite growing international recognition of the pressing needs of LGBTQI+ forcibly displaced people, these voices continue to be excluded and deprioritized within mainstream humanitarian spaces. The Global Compact on Refugees, while affirming protections related to age, gender, disability and diversity, failed to affirm protections for LGBTQI+ persons or to recognize their unique vulnerabilities – in fact, the term LGBTQI+ was not used at all in the document. In multilateral fora, states often sacrifice LGBTQI+ rights for political considerations, disregarding the urgency of addressing the persecution and violence facing LGBTQI+ people.
Politicization of LGBTQI+ rights severely compromises our ability as a global community to address forced displacement crises, when allied states do not hold persecutors to account for fear of offending them in diplomatic spaces. For example, in Uganda, there is an ongoing assault on LGBTQI+ human rights. In May, the President signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law and made Uganda the 12th country in the world to legalize the death penalty as a punishment for same-sex intimacy. Targeted violence and persecution is one of the root causes of the LGBTQI+ forced displacement crisis which the Global Refugee Forum seeks to address. Meanwhile, Uganda is co-chairing the Global Refugee Forum. The UNHCR and member states’ decision to allow Uganda to remain a co-chair of the Forum undermines the advocacy of persecuted LGBTQI+ Ugandan activists who are calling for global public pressure on Uganda to overturn this hateful and discriminatory legislation. Since passage of the law, LGBTQI+ Ugandans have been arrested, evicted and subjected to bias-motivated violence. Ugandan activists have made clear requests to the global community to put pressure on Uganda, calling on governments to issue visa bans for human rights violators, provide nimble emergency funding to local organizations, create flexible humanitarian pathways for at-risk LGBTQI+ persons in Uganda, and hold the Ugandan government to account in multilateral spaces.
The immense challenge of navigating a hostile and exclusionary global landscape can only be met by an equally powerful force of collective queer resistance. By necessity of survival, LGBTQI+ individuals and organizations have become incredibly adept at harnessing the vitality and creativity of their communities to rise up against oppressive systems and generate alternative solutions for finding protection and freedom. In order to be effective, any strategy to address the crisis of forcibly displaced LGBTQI+ people must first be grounded in the cultivation of strong, trust-based partnership networks with local civil society organizations, to identify the urgent needs of highly vulnerable populations, generate responsive pathways to safety, and build a sustainable movement for international LGBTQI+ solidarity. The Joint Refugee Statement at the Global Refugee Forum recognizes the “life-threatening circumstances faced by individuals from marginalized groups, such as the LGBTIQ+ community”, calling on states and protection actors to see refugees as “human beings with unique identities, needs, and diverse backgrounds”, taking a tailored approach which considers “unique and diverse needs, aspirations and capacities of” LGBTIQ+ people, among others.
Recognizing the unique expertise of LGBTQI+ global civil society, Rainbow Railroad will build the conditions to establish an International LGBTQI+ Forced Displacement Coordination Initiative.
The Initiative will serve as an international platform to develop solutions for LGBTQI+ persons who are impacted by the global migration crisis. The Initiative will convene LGBTQI+ civil society, community organizations, academics and key government stakeholders for research and policy development, and provide a forum for coordinating crisis response efforts in real time. This platform has emerged as a direct response to the need to organize and mobilize to influence the global refugee and asylum system which continues to make trade-offs against the lives of LGBTQI+ forcibly displaced persons.
The Initiative is also the product of collective advocacy by global LGBTQI+ civil society organizations which advocated for UNHCR to convene the 2021 Global Roundtable on Protection and Solutions for LGBTIQ+ People in Forced Displacement. The Initiative implements key recommendations from the Roundtable, including the recommendation to “invest in a robust, centralized, international multi-stakeholder network to regularly share data, research, programmatic best practices, and solutions for LGBTIQ+ persons of concern” and to establish “formal global structure, networks, and funding mechanisms by which members of humanitarian, human rights, and allied communities can exchange information, collaborate, coordinate, and hold each other accountable on collectively protecting and supporting LGBTIQ+ people in forced displacement and statelessness.” This centralized advocacy body will work with states to increase refugee intake, and adopt rapid intervention and protection pathways.
States must continue progress made in LGBTQI+ rights, and invest in resettlement while upholding the right to seek asylum.
Recently, several countries have taken key steps forward in their commitment to LGBTQI+ human rights, while also recognizing that sustained relationships with LGBTQI+ civil society and leveraging expertise of LGBTQI+-led organizations are key to accessing at-risk LGBTQI+ forcibly displaced persons. The Canadian government has partnered with Rainbow Railroad to create a dedicated resettlement pathway for LGBTQI+ refugees, both through direct NGO referral, and in partnership with a broader coalition across LGBTQI+ civil society to create dedicated LGBTQI+ private sponsorship resettlement slots. At the UNHCR High Level Officials Meeting, the United States committed to “establish new referral and sponsorship pathways for LGBTQI+ and other vulnerable refugee groups.” The US has begun working with LGBTQI+-led organizations to create new mechanisms for NGO referrals and private sponsorship, currently in the pilot stage. Other states are also exploring the possibility of dedicated pathways or quotas for LGBTQI+ refugees, including through partnership with LGBTQI+ civil society.
Amidst the increased creation and use of complementary pathways, states must continue to affirm the principles of vulnerability-based resettlement and the additionality of complementary pathways, to ensure that the fundamental right to seek asylum is protected from erosion.
Leveraging the expertise of LGBTQI+-led organizations – and in particular refugee-led LGBTQI+ organizations – is key to assessing and identifying at-risk LGBTQI+ forcibly displaced persons in need of durable solutions, whether through resettlement or complementary pathways. As a coalition of LGBTQI+ and allied civil society organizations, we stand ready to elevate the voices of LGBTQI+ persons with lived experience of forced displacement, strengthen the work of LGBTQI+ activists leading advancements toward equality, and to partner with states to support those most at-risk in our communities.
We call on states to create more dedicated pathways and programs to help LGBTQI+ people who are at risk of persecution, through funding for essential services and accessible resettlement pathways. States should invest in sustained partnerships with LGBTQI+ civil society to increase protection and safeguarding efforts of LGBTQI+ persons experiencing forced displacement.
Joint Civil Society Organization Signatories
Access Chapter 2
Afghanistan LGBTIQ+ Organisation
The African Centre for Refugees in Ontario Canada
Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention
America Diversa Inc
Amnesty International Australia
ANKH Association (Arab Network for Knowledge about Human Rights)
ASEAN SOGIE Caucus
Blue Diamond Society
Calgary Refugee Health
Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity
Capital Rainbow Refuge
Centre de Recherche et de Documentation en Approches Genre CREDAG
Corporación Caribe Afirmativo
Council for Global Equality
Derechos Humanos y Diversidad Asociación Civil
Egides – Alliance internationale francophone pour l’égalité et les diversités
The Enchanté Network
Equal Asia Foundation
Fierté Canada Pride
From Borders to Belonging
Forcibly Displaced People Network
Fundación Arcoiris por el respeto a la diversidad sexual
Fundación Colectivo Hombres XX, A. C.
HIV Legal Network
ILGA- LAC Argentina
Instituto sobre Migracion y Refugio LGBTIQ para Centroamerica IRCA CASABIERTA
Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD)
Lithuanian Gay League
Micro Rainbow International Foundation
Morgane Oger Foundation
Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (Movilh)
Namibia Diverse Women’s Association (NDWA)
OCASI- Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
ORAM – Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration
Pride at Work Canada/Fierté au travail Canada
Proud To Be Trans
Rainbow Refugee Society
Rainbow Faith and Freedom
Red nacional de apoyo a personas migrantes y refugiadas LGBT México
Red Regional de Protección a Personas LGBTIQ+ Refugiadas y Migrantes en las Americas
Refugee Council USA
Refugio LGBT CASA FRIDA
RFSL -The Swedish Federation for LGBTIQ Rights
Synergía – Initiatives for Human Rights
WUSC (World University Service of Canada)
UK Black Pride
United Church of Canada