Why LGBT Syrian Refugees Need to Be a Priority

After the Obama administration announced it would make offering refuge to LGBT Syrians a priority there has been some vocal criticism, but this is the right thing to do. Here’s why.

This week White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who was responding to a question from a reporter with the Washington Blade, said that while the White House would not specifically designate slots for LGBT people seeking asylum in the United States, the administration recognized that Syrian LGBTs are an at-risk group and that the administration would prioritize those cases.

Saying that it is no secret that IS has shown “a callous disregard for basic human rights”–likely referring, at least in part, to cases where gay men have been thrown from buildings and stoned in the streets. Earnest went on to say:

“When it comes to our refugee resettlement efforts, the United States does not set aside quotas like what you just described,” Earnest said. “But what the United States does do, in terms of resettling refugees, is prioritize the cases of those who are deemed to be the most vulnerable — those who have been subjected to acts of torture, those who have been singled out because of their minority status in one way or another.”


“There are no quotas that are set aside, but the process that we have implemented does prioritize the cases of those who have been subjected to torture, including like the torture that you described, or might have been singled out for their status as a minority, whether that’s a racial minority or an ethnic minority or a religious minority, or even somebody — an LGBT person”.

This comes, at least in part, as a response to a Care2 petition that was backed by the Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration (ORAM) and signed by over 34,000 Care2 community members urging the White House to specifically designate 500 places so that LGBT Syrian refugees, who remain among the most vulnerable in this crisis, can have their cases heard fairly and are given the safety they need.

That’s because in the past only a fraction of LGBT refugees have been resettled in the United States. As the petition states, “In 2014, only 100 LGBTI refugees were accepted for relocation by the United States government according to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power. That amount equals one-tenth of one percent of the U.S.’s total annual refugee quota of 70,000 refugees.” 

As such, and while it may be disappointing that the Obama administration will not guarantee those slots, the fact that the administration has committed to giving LGBT Syrians priority has been welcomed–so long as it is followed through with decisive actions that allow for the quick processing of applications. Other governments, for example the UK and Canada, have also said they will prioritize applications from LGBT Syrians, and recognize they are an at-risk group.

Some conservatives have opposed giving priority to LGBT Syrians, saying that their sexual orientation or gender identity should not be a factor. This completely ignores the extra dangers that LGBT refugees are in.

In estimates delivered to the UN it has been claimed that IS, that is ISIS and ISIL together (for the difference please see this illuminating article), has staged over 30 public executions of gay-identifying individuals in recent years, and may have killed far more LGBT people than we know. As a United Nations panel recently heard, once LGBTs have fled Syria or surrounding states where IS is trying to or has taken over, they face potential hostility as they cross into regions like Turkey where being LGBT is still highly policed. As such, LGBT refugees face dangers not just in the countries from which they are fleeing, but from countries that are meant to be helping them, and sadly even from fellow refugees too.

For example, gay-identifying Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian refugees who are now living in the Netherlands recently had to be moved from a refugee center in Parool, Amsterdam, after the Salvation Army which oversees the camp said it could not guarantee their safety after threats were being made from other refugees. According to reports, the men felt they were effectively becoming prisoners in their rooms, too afraid to go outside in case they faced discrimination or even violence.

Still it is still vital that counties like the US give LGBT Syrians priority because it means that they are at least one big step closer to safety, and any other resulting issues can at least be dealt with fairly and with LGBT human rights in mind, something that is not guaranteed everywhere in the world.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Leia P.
Leia P.3 years ago


Jan L.
Past Member 3 years ago

The lgbt and christian minorities deserve to be prioritised as they are under immediate death threat by daesh.

Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey3 years ago

With respect, refugees need to be prioritised on their need, not sexuality.

Beth M.
Beth M3 years ago

It is our duty as Americans to protect these people from certain death for nothing more than being LGBT. Why is America dragging their feet? Because Trump says so? Time for America to live up to it's roots: "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Let them go thru our process to be admitted and I believe that in the end they will prove to be good Americans, like many Muslims already are.

Darryl Sawyer
Darryl Sawyer3 years ago

Some groups are more at risk than others and I do think that those cases should be made priority, as a member of the LGBT community myself I agree that we should give LGBT refugees a heads up over others so long as we remember that anyone who is fleeing should be given asylum period and as long as they pass the vetting process they should be allowed in.

Helen K.
Helen K3 years ago

Oh come on, if I was fleeing for my life the last thing on my mind would be who I preferred as a sexual partner. If someone is chasing you with a view to killing you all you are worried about is how fast your legs can carry you. If you stop to complain that you should be first for whatever reason then Darwin takes over.

Ab. K.
Ab K3 years ago

Anyone fleeing from their homeland especially children are a priority regardless of who or what they are.Why do some people feel they are god like..judgement is not ours to claim.Open hearts and a helping hand speaks volumes over all things.

Donn M.
.3 years ago

Certain groups are more likely to be targeted, any non-Muslims, especially Jewish and Christian, and now they are going after disabled children. Anyone from a specifically targeted group should have a higher priority IF you are letting any in.

ron Dean
ron D3 years ago

David Y and Brian F.....I know it's probably impossible for you but try staying on topic instead of using any topic as an excuse to run out the same old tired class warfare drivel.

Getting back to the topic.....LGBT Syrians should be considered on the same individual basis as any other Syrian. The should be vetted to determine if they are a safety threat to this country and have they been subjected to torture or do they face certain or probable physical harm if they return to their own country.