Protecting and Assisting LGBT Refugees


In many parts of the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons face severe discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and, in nearly 80 countries, consensual same-sex acts are criminalized. The UN has highlighted the link between criminalization laws and “homophobic hate crimes, police abuse, torture, and family and community violence.” Many countries do not have specific laws targeting LGBT persons, but are often unable or unwilling to protect LGBT persons whose human rights are violated or abused.

LGBT refugees may flee their countries due to persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, or for the same reasons as any other refugee – such as ethnic conflict, political unrest, or the lack of religious freedom. However, in countries where they seek safety, LGBT refugees often risk being harassed, hurt, or even killed. They may be targeted by other refugees, host communities, or government officials and police, who may threaten to arrest and detain them.

LGBT refugees are often reluctant to seek assistance for fear of revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity to people who may subject them to further persecution. This “invisibility” has prevented many organizations from reaching out to LGBT refugees and helping them access services including critically needed medical care. Assistance organizations are increasingly recognizing LGBT refugees’ unique needs and vulnerabilities, especially in countries that are unwilling or unable to protect their human rights.

PRM is expanding its engagement to address some of the key challenges LGBT refugees face. Overseas, PRM is working with international organizations like the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to increase assistance to and protection of LGBT refugees. These partners are developing simple but effective ways to protect those facing high risks of violence. These include providing safe emergency shelter, training staff to understand and address the needs of LGBT refugees, and strengthening the network of agencies serving LGBT persons, including those at the local level.


In June 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed the State Department’s commitment to President Barack Obama’s Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons. The Memorandum calls on the Departments of State and Homeland Security to enhance their efforts to ensure that LGBT refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protection and assistance. It includes a commitment to train U.S. government personnel and key partners to effectively address the protection of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

PRM support for LGBT Refugees:

  • Trains resettlement staff, Program Officers, and Refugee Coordinators on the challenges faced by LGBT refugees
  • Finances research on protection challenges facing LGBT refugees in urban settings
  • Funds international NGOs to improve protection of LGBT refugees
  • Encourages partners to be inclusive of LGBT refugees in their programs
  • Supports UNHCR’s inclusion of LGBT-specific guidance into policies and manuals for staff
  • Expedites resettlement for particularly vulnerable refugees, including LGBT persons
  • Joins with other U.S. government agencies like DHS and HHS to ensure a safe welcome for LGBT refugees to the United States