Thursday, July 16, 2009

2 or 3 Things I Know About Gay Iraq;

DC Fundraiser for Helem

There is much good news to share regarding effective responses to the gay Iraqi refugee crises. This great email from a gay Iraqi refugee in NYC, where he says he attended a party recently and more than a dozen other gay refugees were in attendance, came my way, after I had a long off-the-record phone chat with him:
To be clear, while i have been doing some work to help the Iraqi LGBT community and will continue to do so to my capacity, i can not promise an official organization anytime soon. This would need serious full time commitment, preparation and paperwork aside from the security threat it could represent to my family back in Iraq.

Yet, i do realize the urgency and need for such an establishment. So ill need to reach out to others in the Iraqi LGBT community and rally them as we think carefully about all this and try to reach a compromise that wouldnt endanger anyone.
It satisfies my human rights activist heart to learn there are discussions taking place about providing alternative gay Iraqi refugee voices to the media and community. Having only one person handling gay Iraqi issues is unacceptable, given the gravity of the situation the refugees face. I look forward to receiving updates from the emailer on his efforts.

I also emailed Scott Long at Human Rights Watch, asking about his report on gay Iraqis and when it would be released, and I also tossed out the idea of focusing USA gay attention on expanding the number of gay Iraqi asylum slots, if they existed. Long said:
We are still aiming for a release in Baghdad in early August but we are still sorting out the logistics.

Yes, I think the US should be pressed to accept more LGBT Iraqis. There are two practical problems, though.

First, the US has been extremely bad at resettling any Iraqis as refugees, including folks who were targeted explicitly because they collaborated with the occupation; Obama has announced I think an increase to 30,000 resettlement slots this year, but translators and other occupation workers will still come first.

Second, all US refugee policy is organized according to a priority system, with three large priority categories. (There’s a decent explanation at

These are set by law, not policy, so there isn’t much flexibility, and P2 and P3 (which account for most resettlements, I think) are not structured so as to be particularly friendly to LGBT claimants. (Iraqis fall under P2 but the terms, which were set by statute, focus on people associated with the occupation.)

This means that the US accepts LGBTs for resettlement mostly under P1, which mostly involves individual assessment of claims rather than group slots. Unlike P2 or P3, where if you can prove your case fits the priority terms (eg if you’re a Baha’i from Iran) you have a strong claim on the US for resettlement, P1 is basically about the urgency of the claim and there is a lot of leeway for US authorities to assess that urgency and deny if they want to.

I think there is room to press for a specific program for LGBT claimants under P1. However, in practical terms other countries would probably be a lot friendlier and faster than the US: Norway, Sweden, Canada, for instance.
Well, if only we had a crew of lawyers and a fundraising effort in Washington to help refugees get through the bureaucracy, with political engagement from the gay wing of the Democratic Party, the Human Rights Campaign, I'd really be happy.

And such an effort is indeed happening next week!

Who knew all this collaborative activity was underway, and for a global gay issue? I had no idea all this was in the works, but I damn pleased the gay lawyers and HRC are pitching in to help the gay Iraqis.

From the HRC site:
If you’re in the DC area I encourage you to join the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch and the National LGBT Bar Association for a unique event in Washington, D.C. ...

On Friday, July 24, spokesmen for a group of twenty LGBT Iraqi refugees undergoing their resettlement process will be in Washington, D.C. to bring attention to their struggle and raise money to support LGBT Iraqi refugees still in the Middle East ...

All proceeds from the fundraiser go to support Helem, a Lebanese LGBT organization that has provided food, shelter and clothing to LGBT Iraqi refugees currently undergoing their resettlement process.

What: Fundraiser to Support LGBT Iraqi Refugees
When: Friday, July 24, 2009
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Where: Human Rights Campaign Equality Center
1640 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20036,

Cost: Please bring your checkbook or credit card and donate as you can.

For questions or more information, please contact Eric Wingerter at
After more than a week of some pretty grim developments with the unstable head of the Iraqi LGBT group in London, not to mention surgery and painful aftercare, and heavy duty meds, I am convinced there are some might good changes coming real soon to aid our brothers and sisters from Iraq, and it isn't just the narcotics talking.

Gay Iraqis discussing a new network, HRW preparing its report for release, and HRW and the LGBT Bar helping out from DC - all reasons to be optimistic.

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