Now Is Crucial Time For US To Act On LGBT Community in Middle East

The Middle East is facing a number of conflicts across the board, from ISIS springing up in destabilized regions to the Gulf Cooperation Council antipathy of Iran’s regional ambitions. Caught in the crossfire are millions of civilians, exposed to violence at home or fleeing towards refugee camps and safe havens. It’s a disastrous situation for countless families and communities.

One of the most vulnerable groups in the midst of the crisis is the LGBT community scattered about the region.

LGBT individuals have been victimized by a variety of groups such as government bodies, society, families, and militant groups that have overtaken large swaths of territory. Gay Syrians have recounted their persecution by ISIS in Syria, with stories of brutal executions and onlookers showing either apathy or excitement at their death. There have been similar cases of violence perpetuated by al-Qaeda in Yemen and the growing threat of an even more brutal force emerging from the Yemeni crisis.

The conflicts have also induced an influx of people fleeing the violence in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq into Turkey and on to Western countries. This comes on top of an already trickling stream of LGBT individuals escaping nations like Iran in search of safer conditions. On arrival to Turkey, LGBT individuals, primarily transgender people, lack basic health care and face violence and discrimination. Even those who are able to be relocated to other countries are burdened by societies not built to accommodate transgender and gender non conforming individuals.

The worsening environment for this community is not exclusive to places of conflict. LGBT individuals face challenges in new countries as well as in their original homes.

The increasing attacks by militant groups have strengthen the resolve of Arab governments, placing security and stability ahead of human rights. Nations like Egypt have fueled anti-LGBT sediment while cracking down on “sexual deviance” in an attempt to legitimize the regime as “Islamic oriented.”

LGBT refugees are highly subjected to violence and abuse through immigration as well as arriving in new countries. In America, LGBT immigrants subjected to detention experience disproportionately higher rates of assault with 11.9% of LGBT men, compared to 1% of straight men, abused in jails.

And crimes against LGBT individuals has been steadily increasing since 2012, with transgender women of color the most vulnerable. LGBT people of color made up 73% of all anti-LGBT homicide victims in 2012, and 53% of victims were transgender women, up from 40% in 2011. At least six trans women of color were killed in the first month alone, and the number for this current year has been growing since.

The culmination of these hardships and atrocities are not undone by a ceasefire or end of hostilities, but rather through extensive reforms to address these widespread persecutions in the Middle East and in Western nations.

The Obama administration recently created the position of special envoy for LGBT rights. While Washington has taken strong stances against Uganda and Russia in recent months, there has been a reluctance to bring up LGBT rights in the Arab states. There has even been less attention towards LGBT refugees by the government, and many of those seeking asylum may withhold their identity out of fear of harassment or discrimination.

The current administration has become the most pro-LGBT government in American history, with the President being the first to mention lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in this State of the Union address. The White House has also endorsed marriage equality, anti discrimination policies, and shown support for ending conversion therapy aimed at “fixing” LGBT people. Despite the recent achievements, the LGBT community is continuously struggling with workplace discrimination, poverty, immigration, and other major issues. The government must work to resolve these obstacles to effectively help LGBT asylum seekers as well as the community as a whole.

The LGBT community is in a very precarious position, and the special envoy could prove effective in addressing this paramount issue. Washington has a difficult task of maintaining ties with the GCC as well as other Arab nations while advocating for human rights. There needs to be an effort to lobby for social infrastructure and inclusion specific to LGBT individuals in the region. Washington also needs to reform immigration laws to accept transgender people, especially those who may hold a third gender identity on their passports. This is by all means not a comprehensive list, but a few examples of where to begin.

If the United States is genuinely serious in its pressing of safety and welfare for LGBT communities, it needs to take action that does more than just solve a regional conflict. It needs to address and alleviate the community from root causes of anti-LGBT violence and discrimination rather than quickly bandage war-torn countries and draconian regimes.

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

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