President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have promised to work for LGBTQI+ equality globally as well as domestically — and Rainbow Railroad, a nonprofit organization that helps LGBTQI+ people around the world flee persecution and find safety, is ready to hold them to that promise.
“LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers are in extremely perilous positions around the globe — something that the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated,” Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, tells The Advocate. “It is crucial that the Biden administration step up and work to ensure the safety and well-being of some of the world's most marginalized refugees.”
In a new report, Partnering With Rainbow Railroad, the group calls on the Biden-Harris administration to “increase refugee admissions to the U.S. for LGBTQI+ populations given their unique vulnerabilities; grant LGBTQI+ refugee organizations like Rainbow Railroad official recognized referral status; and protect the right of asylum by ensuring that harmful and discriminatory detention policies are reversed and that detention is safe for LGBTQI+ migrants.”
The new administration is making progress, the report notes. In February, Biden issued a memo directing U.S. agencies operating overseas to “to ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.” Specifics include combating discrimination, criminalization, and other abuses of human rights, along with responding to the needs of asylum-seekers, assuring that everyone has equal access to the asylum process.
Biden has also raised the limit on refugee admissions to 62,500 by the end of this fiscal year (September 30), far above Donald Trump’s cap of 15,000, and has committed to admitting 125,000 in the following fiscal year (the number is for all refugees, not just LGBTQI+). “It will be critical to continue to advocate for LGBTQI+ populations and ensure that they make up a significant proportion of this commitment, given their global persecution levels,” says Rainbow Railroad’s report.
The group wants the administration to partner with it and other activist organizations to identify LGBTQI+ refugees for resettlement in the U.S. The administration is open to the concept of private sponsorship of refugees, through which nonprofit organizations can identify and sponsor those who are likely to qualify for admission to the nation. Canada has had a private sponsorship program for 40 years, and Rainbow Railroad urges the U.S. to consider a similar program to expand sponsorship of LGBTQI+ refugees.
It further calls on the U.S. government to use existing priority referral processes to help persecuted LGBTQI+ people find safety. An embassy P-1 referral, for instance, allows an asylum-seeker to apply at a U.S. embassy in their country rather than going to an immigration checkpoint across their nation’s borders; the embassy process is safer and less costly, both key considerations for many LGBTQI+ migrants. Also, LGBTQI+ people should be designated as a group eligible for P-2 priority referrals, which allow for an entire persecuted group to seek resettlement, Rainbow Railroad says.
Finally, the administration should assure the safety of LGBTQI+ asylum-seekers and other migrants who are held in detention while awaiting a decision on their admission to the U.S., the report says. Steps toward this goal include providing cultural competency training for all officials involved in the process, transparency about the number of LGBTQI+ people in detention and how they are treated, assuring that transgender migrants are not forced to be housed under the gender they were assigned at birth, and providing alternatives to detention. The latter include release on bond or on the migrant’s own recognizance, with the requirement that they appear at hearings on their case, or release into the supervision of a nonprofit humanitarian group.
Rainbow Railroad, established in 2006, has intervened in a variety of nations where LGBTQI+ people are persecuted, such as Chechnya, Egypt, Jamaica, and Uganda, and has helped many of these people resettle safely. Read its full report here.