Last Monday, President Trump again turned his back on thousands of people facing war, violence, and persecution. In an attempt to veil prejudiced policies under threats of terrorism, he institutionalized xenophobic, anti-Muslim, antirefugee, and anti-immigrant sentiments so frequently expressed during his campaign and after the inauguration. Of course, these policies will also be harmful to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people since we belong to each of these groups.
The governments of Libya, Syria, and Somalia punish homosexuality with prison, even up to 10 years. Sudan, Iran, and Yemen officially punish homosexuality with death. OutRight has documented more than 39 people killed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria for alleged homosexuality from 2014 to 2016 alone. By closing the doors to LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees, President Trump is effectively accepting the persecution and violence targeting this community and allowing some LGBTIQ people to die. He has joined the ranks of those who believe imprisoning and killing people for being LGBTIQ is permissible.
What President Trump fails to understand is the sheer desperation of LGBTIQ and other refugees and migrants who flee their countries not because they want to but because they have no other choice. They do so simply to survive. However, this executive order, just like the previous “travel ban,” will force people who are most at risk of danger to languish in unsafe environments or overcrowded refugee camps. They will continue to endure extreme violence and their only road to safety and freedom may have been denied.
This ban could also have life-changing impact on LGBTIQ activists who have turned to the United Nations as a port of last call when their own government fails them. This week the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women will take place. The commission convenes in New York for two weeks each year and is the largest annual gathering of governments, civil society, and the U.N. system to develop the global agenda concerning progress for women and girls. It is a space where individuals exercise their rights to political participation, bring their experiences of persecution, violence, and discrimination to the table to ensure that we move forward as a global community putting human rights and dignity first. President Trump’s executive order risks excluding countless women and LGBTIQ people who need access to this space to hold their countries and the international system to account.
The U.S. government must ensure that human rights defenders traveling to U.N. meetings are not blocked by this heinous ban. If it comes to that, the U.S. will be destroying the international system and violating the traditional American value of free speech. OutRight will be documenting the experiences of human rights defenders being denied entry to the U.S. and their interaction with American immigration officials. The president must know that the world is watching and he will be held accountable for his xenophobic and exclusionary policies.
All around the world we see isolationist dispositions creeping into politics, we see leaders advancing nationalism ahead of solidarity and distrust ahead of faith in humankind. The front-runner in the Dutch election taking place next week is Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom, whose claims that Muslim beliefs are out of line with Dutch national identity and harmful to LGBTIQ people has become his battle cry. This tactic of using LGBTIQ rights as ammunition against Muslim immigration and integration is shadowed by France’s Marine Le Pen, a forerunner in France’s 2017 presidential election. Trump joins these populist politicians in Europe and around the world in trying to pit minorities against each other, even claiming to “protect” LGBTIQ people from Muslims. The LGBTIQ community does not want this “protection” and rejects any attempts to divide us from immigrants, Muslims, refugees, and asylum seekers.
It is clear that this executive order is not a policy to provide Americans with increased safety but one that is fueled by arbitrary discrimination pandering to President Trump’s far-right constituent base, which got him elected. If the White House thinks this travel ban will make Americans safer, that is only because it has ignored logic and facts. The way to make Americans safer is by demonstrating respect for people from every country. Scapegoating six Muslim nations, refugees, and asylum seekers in the name of so-called counterterrorism categorically does not make Americans safer. This is discrimination by another name.
JESSICA STERN is the executive director of OutRight International.