Tag Archives: asylum

Across Europe, LGBT migrants face abuse in asylum shelters

Alaa Ammar fled Syria to escape not just civil war but also the threat of persecution as a gay man. Yet when he arrived in The Netherlands last spring, he did not find the safe haven he craved.

He and four other gay travelers had to face newly arrived asylum seekers at a migrant center in the remote northern town of Ter Apel.

“After five minutes, they started looking. After 10 minutes, they started to talk. After one hour, they came to us,” said Ammar. “After three hours, they started fighting with us.”

Across Europe, LGBT migrants say they suffer from verbal, physical and sexual abuse in refugee shelters and some have been forced to move out.

The AP found out about scores of documented cases in The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, with the abuse usually coming from fellow refugees and sometimes security staff and translators.

In Germany, the Lesbian and Gay Federation counted 106 cases of violence against LGBT refugees in the Berlin region from August through the end of January. Most of the cases came from refugee centers and 13 included sexual abuse.

Joerg Steinert, head of the federation in Berlin-Brandenburg, said refugees have been asking gay groups for help all over the country, reluctant to approach police for fear of jeopardizing their asylum applications. Last year, the federation placed 50 people in private homes because the migrant centers were too dangerous.

“These asylum shelters are law-free areas,” he said. “When I come to our office on Monday morning, there’s usually a bunch of refugees waiting outside in the hallway who need help immediately.”

Charities and private shelter operators say they’ve simply been too overwhelmed by the huge influx of migrants to attend to some refugees’ special needs. Masses of people often live in one big hall, without lockable rooms or gender-separated washrooms.

In Berlin, where four hangars at the former Tempelhof airport were turned into a reception center for 2,100 people, four cases of gay abuse were reported.

Maria Antonia Kipp, spokeswoman for private center operator Tamaja, said it’s very difficult to create safe spaces for homosexuals when hundreds of bunk beds are separated only by thin wooden boards.

“When we see a dangerous situation or people tell us about it, we’ll get the people out and transfer them to smaller shelters,” she said.

The German Red Cross said it had a code of conduct banning violence at its shelters.

And the Arbeiterwohlfahrt, or Worker’s Welfare charity group, said it is trying to create safe spaces in new centers but cannot implement the highest standards it would like.

“We’ve been somewhat overrun by reality,” said spokeswoman Mona Finder.

Some critics say it is up to the German government to protect migrants. But last month, a proposal to increase the security of asylum shelters was taken out of a government bill, despite official reprimands from the European Commission that Germany is not implementing EU safety guidelines.

Without the government, the protection of gay migrants has largely fallen to rights groups and local communities.

Earlier this week, gay rights group Schwulenberatung Berlin will open a new home with 122 beds for gay refugees in cooperation with the city of Berlin and another shelter with 10 beds was recently opened in Nuremberg. Berlin has also appointed a counselor as contact person for the registration of LGBT migrants.

Schwulenberatung Berlin’s Mahmoud Hassino said the new Berlin shelter would be a big improvement for LGBT refugees.

“Gay refugees live in constant fear in the big shelters,” said the 40-year-old Syrian refugee.

Hassino came to Germany in 2014 and had to move out of a Berlin shelter himself because of the hostility of fellow refugees. 

“Even if they don’t get abused right away, they’re always afraid their identity will be revealed and then they’ll be targeted,” he said.

The situation for gay refugees is difficult all over Europe. In Spain, for example, two migrants from Cameroon and a third from Morocco were physically abused after their sexual orientation was discovered by others at shelters, according to the Pueblos Unidos nonprofit.

In Sweden, a court sentenced an asylum seeker to five months in prison last summer for making death threats, along with spitting in the face and grabbing the throat of a fellow refugee in a center in Jonkoping. When the victim collapsed onto the floor, the attacker kicked him unconscious. Witnesses and a surveillance video backed the claims.

The motive was the victim’s homosexuality. The attacker was “outraged that Sweden protects homosexuality and all should be killed by slaughtering,” according to court documents.

In Finland, cases of gay harassment and abuse also  have been recorded at refugee centers, according to SETA, a nationwide LGBT group. As a result, some of the centers have separated a secure section for those afraid of sexual harassment.

Other migrants have contacted SETA after fleeing their designated refugee center because of abuse. Earlier this month, a Finnish court gave an asylum seeker a three-and-half-year prison sentence for raping a migrant man at a southern Finnish center.

In Denmark, there have been at least 10 cases of harassment, according to Mads Ted Drud-Jensen from the LGBT Asylum group. He stressed that those figures represent only victims who have been in contact with the group.

“Stepping out of the closet may be hard to do and not everyone is talking to us,” he said.

In the Netherlands, a Dutch human rights group reported earlier this month on regular abuse of gays and lesbians at a large camp that can house up to 3,000 asylum seekers near the city of Nijmegen. The group, The College for Human Rights, said one asylum seeker “has repeatedly found excrement and food in his bed. He is threatened and abused by fellow residents.”

The asylum seeker, whose identity was not disclosed, said he feared for his safety because some other refugees carried knives. The report said he often found notes in his bed such as “kill gay” and “we don’t want gay in the camp.”

When Ammar reported abuse in Ter Apel, he and other gay refugees were put up on the floor of a restaurant for a night. Then they were transferred to another shelter in Apeldoorn.

There too, Ammar said, three fellow refugees attacked him and another man in the communal washroom and slashed them with a knife.

“You could see from their eyes that they wanted to hurt me,” he said.

Again, Ammar was transferred, back to a caravan in Ter Apel. Employees with the COA asylum organization advised them to close the doors and windows, he said, but other asylum seekers “opened the windows and said bad things to us.”

Spokesman Jan-Willem Anholts said COA does not keep records of complaints of gay abuse, but does have “protective” measures for people at risk. Anholts also raised concerns that creating safe houses for specific groups could lead to a type of “segregation” in Dutch society.

It was only after Ammar received asylum and moved in with a private host in Amsterdam a few weeks ago that he started to feel really safe.

“Who wouldn’t like Amsterdam?’ Ammar said as he looked carefully left and right before crossing roads — already seasoned at watching out for speeding bicycles in the Dutch capital. “People don’t care if I’m gay or not. I can scream ‘I’m gay!’ and they will say, ‘Welcome.’” 

ACLU to Scott Walker: No biased exclusion of Syrian refugees

Some Wisconsin legislators and Gov. Scott Walker want to turn away Syrian refugees.

The ACLU of Wisconsin responded …

We are saddened by calls from our governor and others to turn our backs on the world’s most vulnerable people when they need us the most.

We mourn and condemn the horrific attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad.

However, the attempt by Gov. Scott Walker and other lawmakers to draw a link between such tragedies and the admission and resettlement of Syrian refugees in Wisconsin is a reflexive overreaction.

The U.S. already has an extremely rigorous and multi-layered security screening program in place for refugees seeking to resettle here. Attempting to shut out refugee resettlement in Wisconsin blames refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and erodes our own civil liberties.

The governor’s and other Wisconsin legislators’ position is badly wrong.

It betrays Wisconsin values of hospitality and compassion, and flies in the face of the laws of this country.  The brazenly discriminatory nature of this position raises grave legal concerns, and should be abhorrent to all Wisconsinites who believe in the values on which our country was founded.

Human migration is unstoppable

I’m a history buff, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that the history of the world is the history of migrations. A look at North America is instructive.

The tribes we call “native” to the United States and Canada are descendants of people who crossed the Bering Strait from northern Asia, spreading south and east into the continent. Many centuries later, European migrants seeking greater opportunity — some of them religious zealots, others freethinkers — settled the East Coast. They moved westward over the next two centuries, displacing and, in some cases, annihilating native tribes. 

For centuries, slave traders captured and exported millions of Africans to the “New World” where they were sold as slaves. They were doomed to work as slaves their whole lives as were generations of their descendants. It took one of the most devastating wars in history to end slavery in the U.S. Decades after emancipation, millions of African Americans in the South joined what became known as “The Great Migration,” seeking better jobs and fairer treatment in the North and West.

In the mid-1800s, West Coast businessmen recruited Chinese to lay railroad tracks and work in fields and mines for little pay. Asian women were trafficked as prostitutes to serve men in the bustling cities and mining towns of the West. About 1.5 million Irish fled to the eastern U.S. to escape famine in Ireland.

Some Mexicans who have come to the U.S. in recent years may be the descendants of the Spanish-speaking people who conquered the American Southwest, which became part of New Spain, then Mexico. 

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans migrated to Florida in the wake of the 1950s revolution there, and tens of thousands of Vietnamese “boat people” who fled their ravaged land were welcomed to the U.S. in the 1970s and ’80s.

Every continent and region of earth has its own history of migration, some of it voluntary, some coerced. Migrations are caused by displacement from natural disasters or flight from war or persecution. They result from conquests and coerced resettlement of populations. They are also undertaken for adventure, opportunity and profit. 

Migration occurs without respect to procedures issued by governments. Laws do not deter them. Walls do not block them. Armies cannot shoot them all. Migrants brave deserts, seas, mountains and border guards. Human migration is inexorable.

The refugee crisis caused by chaos in Iraq and Syria has been years in the making. It requires a coordinated plan by the European Union, where refugees are now fleeing, and the United Nations. Negotiations over Syria must resume in Geneva. Until some measure of order is restored in Syria and Iraq, the exodus of millions will continue unabated.

Given the U.S. role in destabilizing the region, it is shameful that we’ve agreed to take in only 2,000 Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, hysteria about undocumented migrants in the U.S. is being fanned by many Republican candidates for president. Some want to spend billions on a massive wall along our border with Mexico, while our own bridges and schools are deteriorating around us. 

Instead of wasting money and sowing hatred, all candidates should address how migrants and their children can be integrated into American life. All Americans should get used to the inevitability of a more fluid and diverse society.

Highly skilled LGBT Russians are fleeing despite good career prospects there

Had he stayed in Russia, Andrew Mironov would be settling in to a stable job with an oil company, likely with a newly awarded doctoral degree in electrical engineering.

Instead, he faces an uncertain future in New York City — one of scores of Russian gays seeking asylum in the United States due to hostility and harassment in their homeland.

“In Russia, I would have gotten my Ph.D. this fall, had a job and health insurance,” said Mironov, 25. “Now, here, I’m nobody.”

Yet the sacrifices have been worth it, Mironov says, given the fears that lingered after he was severely beaten by several assailants in the lobby of a gay bar in his home city of Samara.

“Which is more important — happiness or success?” he asked over coffee in midtown Manhattan. “I would say happiness. I feel no fear here.”

There are no firm statistics on the number of gay Russian asylum seekers; U.S. government agencies which handle applications do not report such details. However, the Department of Homeland Security’s latest figures show that overall applications for asylum by Russians totaled 969 in the 2014 fiscal year, up 34 percent from 2012.

The increase is due in part to the worsening anti-gay climate in Russia, according to Immigration Equality, a New York-based organization which provides legal services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants.

The organization says the number of inquiries it received from gay Russians seeking U.S. asylum has risen from 68 in 2012 to 127 in 2013 and 161 through Oct. 30 of this year. During that period, gay-rights gatherings in Russia were frequently targeted by assailants, and the parliament passed a law targeting “gay propaganda” that was widely viewed as a means of deterring gay activism.

Said Mironov of that law, “It helped homophobic people feel the government is on their side.”

To get an application approved, an asylum-seeker must present a convincing case that he or she was a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home country. Russia’s anti-gay policies and its record of anti-gay violence are factors that could strengthen an individual’s case.

Aaron Morris, Immigration Equality’s legal director, said most of the recent asylum inquiries came from gay men in their 20s and 30s who had been targeted by anti-gay attacks, while only a handful have come from gays or lesbians raising children.

“If you have kids, it can be really hard to leave everything behind,” Morris said.

In several U.S. cities, programs have been launched to assist gay asylum-seekers from Russia and elsewhere as they await processing of their applications, which can take six months or more. For the first five months, the asylum-seekers are barred from taking paying jobs, so they often struggle to support themselves, even with resumes illustrating professional success in Russia.

In Washington, D.C., housing is among the major challenges, according to Matthew Corso, who has helped the DC Center for the LGBT Community create a program to assist people who are seeking asylum.

“We have no trouble finding them legal representation, but trying to find someone willing to give part of their home, or money for food or transportation is not easy,” Corso said.

Another group aiding gay Russian asylum-seekers in the Washington area is the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance, founded in 2011 by Russian immigrant Larry Poltavtsev.

Poltavtsev, who studied chemistry at the University of North Carolina in the 1990s, is frustrated by the rules that bar asylum-seekers from working. “It makes no sense, because most of our arrivals have advanced degrees and speak good English,” he said. “They’re capable of being productive, paying taxes, but we are not letting them do those things while they’re waiting.”

Soon to join the queue of applicants are Andrew Nasonov and Igor Bazilevsky, longtime partners from the Russian city of Voronezh who wearied of threats, harassment and beatings, and came to the United States in July. They’re now assembling the paperwork for their case and getting Russian documents translated into English.

“Of course we are worried, but we hope for the best,” said Nasonov.

Nasonov, 25, was a journalist and human-rights activist in Russia; Bazilevsky, 32, a graphic designer. They hope to pursue those careers in the U.S. if their asylum applications are approved.

Meanwhile, they’ve been provided with lodging by a gay couple in a Washington suburb, and took a step in October that would have been impossible in Russia — they got married.

“We were finally able to say that we are a real family — there are not enough words to describe how wonderful these feelings are,” Nasonov wrote in an email.

“But of course, we are still faced with a lot of difficulties,” he added. “It was hard to leave our relatives, friends, and parents behind in Russia. … We have nothing here, and in many ways are completely dependent on the assistance of the people who surround us.”

In New York City, many asylum-seekers have received advice and support from Masha Gessen, a Moscow-born journalist and activist whose family moved to the U.S. in 1981 and who holds U.S. and Russian citizenship.

She said her family, as Soviet Jews, had group refugee status, allowing for an immigration process far easier than that faced by today’s asylum seekers who must prove their individual case.

“There’s no worse way to emigrate to the U.S. than the way these people are doing it,” Gessen said. “You have nothing, and you have no right to work or public assistance. We’ve seen people end up on the streets.”

She and her allies have lobbied the State Department to extend refugee status to LGBT people from Russia, but thus far to no avail. So for now, asylum-seekers arrive unsure of their long-term prospects.

“After your tourist visa runs out, you’re basically undocumented,” Gessen said. “It can be hard to rent an apartment or get a cellphone. You have problems navigating everyday life.”

The United States is among several countries favored as havens by LGBT Russians who emigrate — Canada, Finland and Israel are among the others. Gessen said the U.S. is more receptive than many Western European countries, and Aaron Morris, the Immigration Equality lawyer, said his legal team had been able to win approval for most of the Russian asylum cases that it has handled.

Morris commended the Department of Homeland Security for asking Immigration Equality to train its asylum officers on distinctive aspects of LGBT asylum cases. “They understand our community is a little different,” Morris said.

Among the many pending cases is Andrew Mironov’s asylum application, buttressed by photographs showing the injuries he sustained in Russia that required a hospital stay. He’s not sure when he’ll be called in for an in-person interview, but says his lawyer believes the case is a strong one.

Mironov has been in the U.S. since November 2013, spending his first night in a homeless shelter run by the Metropolitan Community Church of New York. He now lives in Brooklyn but continues to attend the church, which serves the LGBT community.

The past 12 months have been challenging. One obstacle, he said, is a chilly reception from many non-gay Russian immigrants in New York.

“Americans don’t care if you’re gay, but the Russians here, they still have a problem with it,” he said.

Mironov worked for several months as a bartender at a restaurant in Manhattan but said his manager often mistreated him, calculating that he wouldn’t complain because of his uncertain legal status. Now he’s trying to establish a photography business, called Strekoza — Russian for “dragonfly.”

“It’s hard to not be sure about your future,” he said. “In Russia, I’d planned my whole life out.”

Gay couple from Sochi marries in Argentina, seeking asylum

A gay couple from Russia’s Olympic city of Sochi has gotten married in Buenos Aires and plans to seek asylum in Argentina.

Alexander Eremeev and Dmitry Zaytsev married at the civil registry in Argentina’s capital, accompanied by gay rights activists who say Argentina should provide refuge to people who are being persecuted for their sexual orientation in other countries.

The two men are preparing their case before Argentina’s National Commission for Refugees, saying that now that they are married, they would face attacks and police persecution back home in Sochi.

Political asylum cases involving Russian gays and lesbians have increased sharply since Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a law banning so-called gay “propaganda” from reaching minors.

The law created penalties for Russian citizens and visitors that could result in fines and imprisonment. The law also provided cover for right-wing extremists who have waged a series of assaults against gay people in Russia.

US court reviews gay Russian’s asylum case

A U.S. appeals court has ordered immigration officials to review their decision not to grant asylum to a gay man who said he was attacked for his sexual orientation in 2002 and 2003 in his native Russia and feared he would be persecuted if forced to return there.

The Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals was wrong when it concluded that the man had failed to show that government officials in Russia were either unwilling or unable to control his attackers, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently.

The man was only identified as “John Doe” in the opinion.

“The government failed to present any evidence to rebut Doe’s undisputed testimony that he suffered serious assaults at the hands of individuals on account of his homosexuality or to show that the Russian government was able and willing to control non-governmental actors who attack homosexuals,” the court said.

It ordered the board to review the case and said federal officials had to show circumstances had changed in Russia to allay the man’s fears, or that he could be relocated to a safe area in the country.

The ruling comes after Russian lawmakers passed a law this summer banning gay “propaganda,” prompting some activists to call for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. President Vladimir Putin has said the law won’t infringe on the rights of gays, and athletes and activists will not be punished if they raise rainbow flags or have rainbow-colored fingernails.

The man seeking asylum in the 9th Circuit case said he was beaten and kicked while walking in a park with his partner in September 2002, according to court records. He had joined a club for gays that year at the age of 18 while he was in his first year of college in the city of Ulan-Ude, and said his five attackers included classmates.

When he filed a complaint naming his attackers, police said his injuries were not serious and asked why he had not defended himself, according to court records.

The second attack occurred in April 2003 when he was at a restaurant with his partner. He was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion. In that case, he said law enforcement officials rejected the case, citing a Russian regulation.

He moved to the United States in November 2003 to attend an English language school. Federal officials initiated removal proceedings against him two years later on the grounds that he violated the conditions of his stay when he stopped attending school.

IOC VP: Snubs? Snowden? Anti-gay laws? No problem for Olympics

The Winter Olympics in Sochi should not be affected by the heightened political tensions between the United States and Russia over Edward Snowden, gay rights and other issues, a vice president of the IOC said this week.

“If there are political tensions arising, it wouldn’t be the first time before an Olympic Games, and in the main, Olympic Games overcome political tensions,” IOC vice president Craig Reedie of Britain told The Associated Press.

Reedie downplayed the impact of President Barack Obama’s decision to call off a Moscow summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The snub follows Russia’s decision to grant asylum to Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker, in defiance of Obama’s repeated requests.

Obama’s decision also reflects strained ties with Russia over missile defense, Syria, human rights and other issues. He canceled the summit with Putin exactly six months before the start of the Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in southern Russia.

“I think the games are quite clearly an occasion which encourages peace among nations and I’m pretty sure, despite pressures at the moment, that’s what will appear to the world in February next year,” Reedie said in a telephone interview.

Reedie also cited the global situation before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which were held just months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington.

“There must have been a question mark over that after what happened to New York, and the games went ahead,” Reedie said.

The International Olympic Committee official also said the 2008 Beijing Olympics were a “triumph” despite the pre-games controversies over China’s record on human rights, Tibet and press freedoms.

“It’s happened twice in recent years,” Reedie said. “I think it’s far too early to say what’s going on at the moment is going to be massively problematic.”

The buildup to the Sochi Games, scheduled for Feb. 7-23, has also been overshadowed recently by criticism of Russia’s new anti-gay legislation. The law, which was signed by Putin in June, bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.”

Obama said he had “no patience” with countries which discriminate against gay people.

While some critics have called for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, the IOC is quietly negotiating with Russian officials to make sure the law does not affect the games. Russia is also hosting the world track and field championships, which start Saturday in Moscow.

“I would hope wise counsel would be taken because they (Russia) have much to gain from a successful world athletics championships and have much to gain from a successful Olympic Games and (2018) World Cup,” Reedie said. “It is in their interests to have a decade of sport.”

11 openly gay Olympians win medals

11 openly gay Olympians ended the London 2012 Games with medals.

Out athletes – and one coach – heading home with medals include:

• Seimone Augustine, of the U.S. women’s basketball team, gold.

• Megan Rapinoe and coach Pia Sundhage of the U.S. women’s soccer team, gold.

• Lisa Raymond, of the U.S. tennis team, bronze.

• Edward Gal, of the Netherlands equestrian team, bronze.

• Carl Hester, of Great Britain’s equestrian team, gold.

• Marilyn Agliotti, Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel, Kim Lammers, Maartje Paumen, of the Netherlands field hockey team, gold.

• Judith Arndt, of the German cycling team, silver.

More than 20 openly gay Olympians competed in the summer games.

Activists, prior to the games, had called for the Olympic committee to consider banning nations that discriminate against LGBT people from participating.

Activists also encouraged athletes to come out in London and offered to aid those seeking to flee persecution.

Peruvian lesbian wins asylum with help from law school students

Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic has secured asylum in the United States for a lesbian who feared she would be persecuted in her native Peru because of her sexual orientation.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security this week granted asylum to Karina De Jesus after a team of students from the clinic proved that she feared persecution based on her sexual orientation.

The students representing De Jesus also helped her persuade U.S. officials to allow her to apply for asylum after a key deadline had already passed. Asylum seekers typically must file for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States. The students successfully argued that the trauma De Jesus suffered because of her experiences in Peru, together with her recent marriage to another woman, warranted permission for her to file after the one-year deadline.

“Karina’s experience as a lesbian in Peru, supported by friends and family who still live there – as well as by reports and news articles – shows that the Peruvian government does not protect LGBT individuals from sexual orientation – based crimes,” said Julia Braker, a student who worked on the case. “Lesbians face both physical and sexual violence, and the Peruvian police fail to address this persecution.”

The decision to grant asylum to De Jesus comes at a time when conditions for LGBT individuals in Peru are extremely dangerous. A recent study by Movimiento Homosexual de Lima, a Peruvian LGBT community organization, found that each week a person is killed in Peru due to sexual orientation or gender identity. 

De Jesus said, “I am finally able to live my life without fear, and I now am able to realize my dreams, like starting a family.”

Beginning in January, four students from the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic – Braker, Jacquelyn Hehir, Larissa Eltsefon and Rebecca Orel – prepared De Jesus’ asylum application. The students spent months conducting interviews, drafting affidavits, researching country conditions and preparing their client for her interview with the asylum office. 

De Jesus, who lives with her wife in the Bronx, was referred to the clinic by Immigration Equality, a national organization focused on immigration rights for LGBT individuals that provided important assistance in the case. 

“Karina is an amazing woman, and we are thrilled that we were able to help her with her asylum application,” Hehir said. “She deserves to live as an open lesbian with the woman she loves without the fear of violence or persecution.”

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U.S. government to use diplomatic tools to promote global LGBT human rights

The United States will use its diplomatic tools to protect LGBT human rights and combat efforts to persecute and prosecute people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The American commitment came Dec. 7, first in an unprecedented memorandum on LGBT human rights from President Barack Obama and then in a landmark speech by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” Clinton said.

Obama wrote, “I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world – whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women and children for their perceived sexual orientation.”

The president’s memorandum outlined the first-ever U.S. government strategy to deal with human rights abuses against LGBT people and directed federal agencies that engage in foreign affairs to promote LGBT human rights globally — including decriminalization of LGBT people and humane treatment of LGBT refugees and those seeking asylum.

Clinton delivered her speech, in recognition of International Human Rights Day, to a United Nations assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

She reminded her audience of the origins of the universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document was adopted in December 1948, in the aftermath of World War II, to “prevent future atrocities and protect the inherent humanity and dignity of all people.”

Many nations, Clinton said, have made progress in the 63 years since the drafting of the declaration, but work remains.

“Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today,” the secretary said. “In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm.

“I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, human beings born free and bestowed with equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time.”

Clinton, in her remarks, said it is a violation of human rights for governments to criminalize a sexual orientation or gender identity, allow lesbians or transgender women to be subject to so-called corrective rape and permit or ignore beatings or killings of people because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Homosexuality, she added, is not a Western invention or phenomenon, and thus all governments must protect LGBT human rights.

“Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world,” Clinton said. “They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.”

Clinton also spoke about those who cite religious or cultural beliefs as justification for the persecution or prosecution of LGBT people. 

“No practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us,” she said. “And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing.”

A spokesperson for the state department said a $3 million global equality fund was being established to support the State Department campaign to protect and promote LGBT human rights.

In the diplomatic community, Clinton’s remarks were well received.

In the activist community, there was swift response. The speech prompted an immediate petition drive for the release of two men sentenced to five years in a Cameroon prison because they are gay. The men, a 19-year-old and 20-year-old, were arrested as they walked out of a bar.

“If Cameroon had a transparent and fair judiciary system, and if the president and minister of justice valued the human rights of all Cameroonians, Franky and Jonas would be free men today,” said Stéphane Koche of the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals in Cameroon.

Jessica Stern of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said she hoped Clinton’s words “will ring loud and clear in towns and cities across the United States and villages and communities around the world.”

Stern added, “The presidential memorandum and speech by Secretary Clinton make clear that LGBT rights are not a mere afterthought but a carefully considered component of U.S. foreign policy. Because of the distinct needs of LGBT people globally, such a nuanced approach is crucial.”

Religious right groups in the United States issued statements condemning the administration’s positions, however.

And GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry launched a campaign ad in Iowa claiming that the president was waging a war on religion.

“I’m not ashamed,” Perry said, “to admit that I’m a Christian. But you don’t have to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion, and I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.”

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group, challenged the Texas governor. “Gov. Perry is running to be commander-in-chief, not theocrat-in-chief. Our nation was built upon individual liberty and individual responsibility, and open service by gay and lesbian servicemembers is directly in line with the vision of our Founding Fathers,” said LCR executive director Clarke Cooper.