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Why the U.S. Must Help Evacuate LGBTQ+ Refugees in Ukraine

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Queer people who fled to the country from anti-LGBTQ+ places like Russia and countries in Africa are being left behind amid the tumult.  

After the evacuation of Afghans from Kabul, Americans from all backgrounds, sectors, and politics moved toward the challenge of helping them relocate. We have seen a swift response to support Ukrainian refugees and people fleeing persecution, yet no response on how to support LGBTQ+ refugees in Ukraine now intertwined with the war.

The European Union has openly agreed to open its doors to Ukrainians fleeing persecution due to the recent crisis, yet no action has been taken to protect refugees who fled from Africa, Chechnya in Russia, and neighboring countries to Ukraine as a result of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in their countries before the crisis began. These people do not have the identification to cross the Ukrainian border to Poland and other E.U. countries.

In August of 2021 during the evacuation of Afghans from Kabul, the U.K. government successfully extracted 29 gay men in a plane to safety. We have not seen a response from LGBTQ+ groups in America stepping up to support queer refugees, and many people have said they don't know who to turn to when it comes to LGBTQ+ displaced people issues.

We have seen lots of misinformation on where to contribute to and how to support LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine, but right now there is no humanitarian effort from LGBTQ+ groups that have collected donations to support LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine. The crisis affects not just LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine but mothers, children with cancer, and others scrambling for their dear lives. We need to send all our support to humanitarian aid right now and call on the U.S. government to provide refuge for refugees in Ukraine whose quest for safety led them to the now war-torn country.

To create a support system for LGBTQ+ displaced persons, I and a group of volunteers have created the first national LGBTQ+ organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ displaced persons. We have set out on a vision to "strengthen America as a place of welcome for displaced LGBTQ people."

The United States has a long and complicated tradition of offering refuge and welcoming people fleeing persecution. When a few thousand people get to our country, we have no system to protect the vulnerable people seeking protection. As we call for the extraction of these refugees to America we have to build a welcoming country for them.

Trans, Black, and brown LGBTQ+ people are still being detained upon arriving on U.S. soil, compounding their mental and physical health issues. The leading cause of death in detention centers is lack of access to health care services. We want to change the landscape of what it means to be an LGBTQ+ person and a global citizen.

The U.S. LGBTQ+ community is dealing with major adversity on home turf, with the "don't say gay" bill in Florida and anti-trans bills around the country, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We are on a mission to redefine what it means to be a socially conscious, globally focused, and locally oriented LGBTQ+ citizen.

We want to provide the home and support that I and so many others didn't have when we arrived in the United States. We want to create a sense of hope for members of the LGBTQ+ community experiencing displacement to look up to America as a place of welcome. To be a voice that would say to them,"Welcome to your new home."

Edafe Okporo is the author of Asylum, a Memoir and Manifesto and founder of Refuge America.

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