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ORR Creates Safe Space for LGBT Refugees in the United States

LGBT, Global Populations

Photo of several hands holding a replica of planet earth.Did you know that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was officially created when Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, after the U.S. government authorized the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of Indo-Chinese refugees to the United States?

More than three decades and three million resettled refugees later, this disparate group of people from more than 80 countries has one common characteristic: all have fled persecution stemming from their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion. 

Sometimes, this persecution is on several levels—such as political activists fighting for their ethnic, linguistic and religious rights, or journalists who expose government-sanctioned human rights violations and call for equal access for minorities.

Sometimes, they are lawyers who have represented gay clients facing the death penalty for consensual same-sex relationships.

Sometimes, they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT) persons themselves, who have been forced to flee their country of origin, leaving behind family, friends, career, possessions, and often, partners—all due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Seventy-eight countries world-wide criminalize same-sex activity, with seven of those countries making it punishable by death.  For LGBT refugees—and sometimes, for those who simply support them—flight is the only option available.

Like other refugees, some LGBT refugees meet the persecution standard for resettlement for reasons other than their sexual orientation, and their status plays no role in how their case is ultimately processed.  For those who do self-identify as LGBT, however, ORR has established several programs designed to ensure that LGBT refugees receive comprehensive, culturally-sensitive, and LGBT-friendly services and support. ORR has also strived to create an environment that supports tolerance and understanding so that all LGBT refugees feel free and comfortable to finally self-identify.  Services may include referrals for specific health-related issues, access to social support groups, or legal advice and civil rights training. 

These matters and more are supported by ORR’s technical assistance provider Heartland Alliance, through the Rainbow Welcome Initiative. Working in partnership with pilot sites in key cities across the country, the Rainbow Welcome Initiative provides training and capacity building to service providers, and links LGBT refugees with assistance, information, and overall support. ORR also works with its network of national voluntary agencies to support direct services for newly arriving LGBT refugees through its Preferred Communities grant.  View Rainbow's LGBT refugees videos.

ORR’s mission is to ensure that all arriving refugees have the resources they need to move beyond the persecution they’ve faced in the past, and succeed beyond measure in their new lives in the United States. Most importantly, it remains committed to the belief that LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are refugees’ rights.

Eskinder Negash is the Director of Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ORR provides people in need, including refugees, asylees, Cuban/Haitian entrants, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied alien children, and survivors of torture, with critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society. 

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