About the Author: Elizabeth Drew is a Special Assistant for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
The stakes for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) refugees and asylum seekers are high: many people fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity encounter violence and abuse in the countries they've fled to, where they remain invisible and at risk, often isolated from even community-based support.
The Obama Administration continues to advance a comprehensive human rights agenda that includes elimination of violence and persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity. I represented the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) at a roundtable in Geneva on this theme last week. The roundtable, the first of its kind, will result in enhanced policy and operational guidance for staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at headquarters and in the field. A group of representatives of different governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and academics met from September 30-October 1, and -- despite the jetlag suffered by participants flying in the previous day from as far away as Australia, Kenya, Uganda, Canada and the United States -- we had a remarkably dynamic and productive discussion. We were especially pleased that UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres and Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller welcomed us to a reception after our first day of talks, reflecting the commitment of UNHCR's senior leadership on this issue.
I moderated a session on good practices and current initiatives, describing PRM's efforts to integrate and elevate this issue within our broader work, including our convening a working group with NGOs and other U.S .government offices on this issue and supporting a regional pilot program to build capacity to address LGBT protection challenges. The group welcomed U.S. leadership on this topic, and was appreciative of our public statements, including PRM Assistant Secretary Eric Schwartz's speech at the State Department's LGBT Pride Month event in June. My government representative counterparts spoke about their efforts on this front, and NGO participants shared the innovative programming work they're doing in Kenya, Uganda and the Middle East, particularly in the area of staff training and sensitization.
Our group parted on Friday with both a renewed sense of urgency and ideas for a way forward.