White House Explains Why LGBT Syrian Refugees Are a Priority

AP Photo

The Obama administration will not set a specific number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Syrian refugees into the United States, but because of reports of escalating violence against LGBT people committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the administration will make this group a priority for asylum, reports the Washington Blade.

Responding to a question from the Blade Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest flatly rejected demands to reserve 500 slots for LGBT people among the anticipated additional 10,000 Syrian refugees President Obama promises to accommodate.

Earnest told the paper the administration would instead prioritize letting in those refugees “deemed to be the most vulnerable.” LGBT people would be among those meeting that definition. 

“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,” Earnest said.

As of August, Islamic State militants had reportedly executed more than 30 men in Iraq and Syria who had allegedly engaged in “sodomy,” according to the Blade. A Lebanese activist told the paper of an atrocity near Damascus, in which a transgender woman was hanged by her breasts.

A State Department spokesperson concurred that no quota would be set for LGBT Syrian refugees, but that priority would be placed on those facing extreme persecution. “Each refugee applicant is considered for U.S. resettlement based upon the merits of his or her individual claim, which could include persecution based on being LGBT,” the spokesperson said.

Last month the State Department began using a new interpretation of the word ”spouse.” It now includes same-sex partners of refugees, a subtle but significant shift in policy to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people seeking asylum in the United States. 

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