Fighting Trump's #RefugeeBan

On Friday, January 27, President Trump signed an executive order aimed squarely at limiting the number of Muslims—particularly refugees—that come peacefully and legally to the United States.

By now you’ve heard how this blatantly unconstitutional ban suspends entry to the US and halts the issuance of US visas to citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia. It also orders the US to turn its back on the most vulnerable people in the world by suspending all refugee resettlement in the United States for at least 4 months, lowering the annual cap of US refugee resettlements from 110,000 to 50,000, and indefinitely suspending all Syrian refugees from being resettled in the US.

The refugee ban in particular is devastating to Rainbow Street beneficiaries and all LGBT people struggling to survive in the Middle East and North Africa.

For most LGBT refugees, resettlement in the US is the only option. In a region where every day brings the risk of kidnapping, detainment, torture, and murder, time is of the essence. But the recent ban not only halts all refugee resettlement for 4 months; it removes the priority historically given to exceptionally vulnerable cases, including LGBT individuals.

After massive protest at airports throughout the country, two federal stays were issued, temporarily barring the federal government from removing lawful immigrants—including green card holders—who had arrived after the ban was signed.

But the ban on refugees still stands intact, acutely threatening the lives of LGBT people who are currently in resettlement limbo.

Rainbow Street is fiercely committed to working alongside local activists to protect LGBT refugees living in crisis in the Middle East and North Africa. In nearly all cases, this requires resettlement in a third country. At present, Rainbow Street beneficiaries are at various stages in the lengthy and uncertain resettlement process, mostly with the expert assistance of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP).

To our great relief, Rainbow Street beneficiaries aimed at resettling in the United States made it safely to US soil before the ban was signed, one as recently as last Wednesday. Other beneficiaries are on track to be resettled in non-US countries, or are yet to learn where they’ll be resettled. 

But the recent actions of the Trump administration will still have a huge impact on Rainbow Street’s work as we strive to offer our protection to more displaced LGBT people. Here’s how:

  • Gridlock. For LGBT refugees, time is of the essence. Such a deep cut in the annual resettlement cap, along with a 4-month (minimum) delay on all US resettlement, will mean more refugees living in limbo, and for longer periods of time.
  • Deprioritization. In the past, the US resettlement program has granted priority to exceptionally vulnerable groups, including religious minorities and LGBT individuals. Trump’s administration has made clear their commitment to prioritizing Christian refugees even in the midst of the current refugee ban. But the same protection has not been extended to LGBT cases. 
  • Goodbye, State Department. Not all refugee resettlement cases are straightforward. For the trickier ones, Rainbow Street has cooperated with the US Department of State to find opportunities for our beneficiaries to resettle in the US outside the typical UNHCR channels. But with much of the State Department senior staff having recently resigned, the Trump Administration will likely be closing off these channels as well. This will leave many LGBT refugees in a state of bureaucratic neglect.

The ban forces us to consider new resettlement strategies moving forward. For one, we’ll be contacting individuals and NGOs throughout Canada and Europe to investigate resettlement pipelines to non-US locations. (If you have a contact that might be interested in working with us, let us know.)

There’s also much that you can do to support LGBT refugees in this historic moment:

1. Voice your dissent with Rainbow Street on Sunday, February 5

Join fellow activists in the San Francisco Bay Area as we get together to send letters to our elected officials this Sunday from 12-3pm in Oakland. All stationery, postage, templates, and food provided. Details and RSVP

If you’d like to host a satellite event in your city, contact us!

2. Table with Rainbow Street on Sunday, February 12

Represent Rainbow Street at the Oakland Peace Center’s Activism + Advocacy Resource Fair form 11am-4pm on Sunday, February 12. All materials and talking points will be provided. This is an excellent chance to learn about many impactful organizations! Info and RSVP.

3. Urge your elected officials to resist the ban

We must hold our elected officials accountable for this atrocious ban on refugees. Call your White House, your representative, and your Senators and demand an end to the ban. Learn more

4. Stay informed. Stay involved. 

Don’t miss out on opportunities to stay informed and involved. Sign up for occasional updates from Rainbow Street, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. IRAP’s Policy Action Alerts are also a great way to stay current on issues of refugee resettlement. 

Once you’ve signed up for these updates, show your support on social media with the hashtag #withLGBTrefugees!

5. Make a gift to Rainbow Street

Now more than ever, Rainbow Street is needed and needs your help. Make a gift today to keep hope alive for LGBT refugees in the Middle East and North Africa. Your donation will get LGBT refugees into safe housing and connect them to immediate care.

Standing with Orlando

The news hit the global LGBT community like a punch to the gut: a mass murder of 50 LGBT sisters and brothers at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Yet even as the community begins to grieve, right-wing bigots spew homophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric, opportunists erase LGBT people from their own tragedy, and abusers of LGBT rights insult the struggle for equality by feigning their support.

To be clear, the global LGBT community is no stranger to violence and hate speech. In particular, queer and trans people of color live under constant threat of bodily harm. See just a few recent examples. The fact is that queer and trans people--particularly those at the intersection of two or more marginalized identities--still die every single day because of who they love and how they look. Much of this violence is state-sanctioned.

But for a single night, 50 is a higher body count than usual.

A candlelight vigil in San Francisco blocks traffic as they march to City Hall. www.sfgate.com

A candlelight vigil in San Francisco blocks traffic as they march to City Hall. www.sfgate.com

Such a monumental massacre calls for a proportionate response--not a fear-based reaction like those we’ve seen from the right, but an even stronger response grounded in love and solidarity with our global LGBT comrades and our Muslims allies.

LGBT people and ordinary law-abiding Muslims are both demonized targets of systemic violence. This can be seen on both a domestic and global scale. Until we can quell the beast of fear-based rhetoric and the despicable violence it creates, neither of our communities will be safe.

Just last night, Rainbow Street began to receive messages of hate from individuals who want LGBT people dead:

What happened tonight in orlando you guys had it coming! God forbids you all! I dont give a damn about what happened to the gays someone was going to do it! And thank god someone did! You faggets get what yall diserved! 

-  Anonymous message to Rainbow Street

Statements like these pour salt into an already deep and gaping wound. But they also serve as an important and sobering reminder: The mass murder in Orlando was not the act of a single deranged individual. It was the deadly result of decades of homophobic rhetoric pushed by right-wing regimes and media outlets throughout the world. This rhetoric must be stopped.

But homophobia is not the only weapon of fear that the LGBT community must arm itself against; Islamophobia is equally to blame for this historic robbery of LGBT life. By distorting the messages of Islam and alienating Muslims at home and abroad, proponents of Islamophobia have given fuel to a political movement bent, among other things, on the destruction of LGBT people.

At Rainbow Street, we acknowledge our precarious position at the intersection of Islam and LGBT rights. As we support local activists providing basic necessities to trans and queer folks who have been abused in Muslim-majority societies, we see everyday the suffering caused by dangerous homophobic ideas. Many residents of the communities we work in condemn our work on what they claim to be religious grounds.

But Rainbow Street rejects the notion that religious beliefs can be used to justify atrocities. Allowing a religion to stand responsible excuses adherents of a particular faith from the acts of violence they’ve committed. In short, beliefs cannot be held accountable; people must be held accountable.

There’s more than one way to take a life. Proponents of hatred against Muslims and LGBT people aided and abetted the hateful individual who tore apart so many trans and queer bodies in Orlando on Saturday night. It’s now our job to stand up to this crime by standing alongside our Muslim allies. An attack against one of us is an attack against all of us. Our lives depend on our ability to greet fear with understanding, reaction with consideration, and alienation with gracious acceptance.

Take action in the movement of love

Still I rise

By Maya Angelou
 

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

A new partnership: Muslims for Progressive Values

A new partnership: Muslims for Progressive Values

Rainbow Street is working hard to secure 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Throughout this lengthy process, we're keeping the financial interests of donors like you in mind. That is why we have partnered with Muslims for Progressive Values, a like-minded 501(c)(3) nonprofit committed to the equal treatment of LGBT people across the globe, to make your contributions tax-deductible.

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Queer in Context: Sarah's Story

Queer in Context: Sarah's Story

Rainbow Street is proud to present the second installment of Queer In Context, an ongoing series that highlights the multitude of unique stories and experiences of LGBT people across the Arab World. Rainbow Street envisions a world in which our mission of supporting queer and trans* people living in crisis in the Arab World becomes obsolete. Until that time, sharing stories, like the one to follow, is among the most powerful tools for creating a global community of support.

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Introducing Rainbow Street's Newest Beneficiary: Ayman

Introducing Rainbow Street's Newest Beneficiary: Ayman

Ayman is a gay refugee who fled from his home in Yemen amidst threats against his life. He now lives in Amman where he must work under the table for just 5 JD (7 USD) a day while he awaits permanent resettlement by the UN High Commission for Refugees. His meager salary barely covers his modest rent and one meal per day. Sadly, he is forced to resort to illegal and unsafe measures to support himself. When asked about his long-term goals, Ayman told us that he is so concerned with his day-to-day survival that he has no ability to contemplate a future that is free from hardship and oppression.

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Queer in Context: A Trans Person's Story

As an organization that supports queer and trans* people representing many different kinds of personal identities, Rainbow Street is honored to share Simon’s personal narrative about their experience navigating the cultural paradox of trans-ness in Arab society. Rainbow Street envisions a world in which our mission of supporting queer and trans* people living in crisis in the Arab World becomes obsolete. Until that time, sharing stories like Simon’s is among the most powerful tools for creating a global community of support.


Simon, a twenty-one year old trans* person, is an Arab-American living in the San Francisco Bay Area. They have spent a considerable amount of time abroad in Bahrain, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories. Simon grew up in the United Arab Emirates, but was born in Southern California and spent their summers there. Simon came out in 2011 when they began their transition, and has lived in California since 2004.

“After I came out in 2011, I went to visit my dad in Bahrain. At this time, I had an eyebrow piercing, short hair. I was pretty androgynous looking. My dad didn’t really care, but my grandmother did. My dad’s side of the family didn’t know I was trans*,” Simon explains.


NOTE: Trans* signifies within text, an acknowledgement of myriad identities.


Simon further recounts an experience with their dad in Bahrain. “That year is when I came out to my dad. He told me he was going to take me to a tailor to get custom button down shirts—they don’t really make nice men’s shirts for the curvy, estrogen dominant people of the world. The people at the tailors kept saying they needed to make the male styled dress shirts in a style for a lady. They seemed confused. They kept saying lady, lady, lady. I just kept seeing it written all over the order form. Lady, lady, lady.”

Simon recalls the thoughts in their head. “I am not female.”

As a child living in the UAE, they remember underlying yet prominent moments that forced them to live as a gender they did not identify with. These were memories that reminded them on a daily basis of how they were supposed to think—what they were supposed to wear, what they were supposed to do.

Cis-ness, trans-ness, straightness, and queerness are socially constructed and do not hold to the same conventions universally, but the prejudice tends to unfold in the same ways.
— Simon

Simon felt at odds with their heavily gendered upbringing from a young age. They remember a lack of support as well as a feeling of isolation and alienation. This was compounded by the school system they grew up in where students were separated by gender.

They remember the words of their peers. “Just shut up, no one cares what you have to say. Be quiet.”

“I am erased in most spaces,” Simon expresses.

Simon believes their gender identification development and exploration was slowed by an early hatred against men due to gender expectations in the countries they grew up in. They think they would have come out as trans* sooner if it was not for the prevalence of sexual harassment against women and girls in the Middle East.

“In the United States men catcall women, ask them to smile out of nowhere, get pissed at

women when they reject them. But when I lived in the UAE, harassment took the form of young men slapping the butts of older women as they biked past them and little boys peeking under the skirts of older women. I vitriolically hated men for a very long time because of this.”

Simon felt coming out to their family was more difficult because they waited to explore their gender identity until they were a later age. Their immediate family, while now supportive, also resisted Simon’s gender identification heavily at first because they feared Simon would have a difficult life. They also had trouble embracing the news because of a resistance to “unnecessary medical surgery.”

“Islam prohibits non-medical body modification. Most people in the Arab world are Muslim so they are likely to [follow] this. Trans people are associated with surgeries and body modifications and therefore lumped in with this prohibition. I would argue that transgender surgery and hormones are medically necessary and not cosmetic. This is very hard for people of any culture to understand.”

Simon doesn’t see that the reliance on traditional gender roles found within Islamic and Middle Eastern culture affect trans* people in the Arab world any more than the constructed gender roles of the United States.

These countries, these people, are in a totally different cultural context than we are. Their queer liberation isn’t going to look like our queer liberation.
— Simon

“Cis-ness, trans-ness, straightness, and queerness are socially constructed and do not hold to the same conventions universally, but the prejudice tends to unfold in the same ways.”

They also believe the general criticism of the LGBTQIA policies in Arab countries in the media—both inside of and outside of LGBTQIA groups—can be negative. “These countries, these people, are in a totally different cultural context than we are. Their queer liberation isn’t going to look like our queer liberation.”

This viewpoint doesn’t excuse homophobia, transphobia, or laws and policies that are anti-queer, but it does force the typical mainstream media consumer to consider the impacts of colonialism, eurocentrism, and cultural dichotomy. It causes the typical individual to think of other faces in the struggle for rights.

To Simon, and many others, it is more important to open a general discussion about the lives and peoplehood of queer and trans* people than to simply focus on the persecutions in the counties that they come from.

“When you discuss the problems in a country without discussing the people in a country, you’re creating an ‘others’ population. You’re not allowing those people to have representation of their own. That creates a lot of alienation and not a lot of progress.”


Comment

Ari Kleinman

Ari graduated with a B.A. in Literature, Communication, and Media. She is passionate about writing, human rights issues, reading, queer issues, and feminism. She is possibly an aspiring librarian (or maybe a writer or an activist) and enjoys drinking coffee, baking cookies, getting piercings, and going on adventures. She has previously been published in Tattooed Heroine. She lives in Oakland, CA.

Interview with Osama

Rainbow Street was formed because of the need of a close friend. That friend is Osama. As Rainbow Street continues to grow and expand its scope to connecting more beneficiaries to safe housing, a network of support, and resources necessary to form individualized long term plans, we felt it was appropriate to feature the story of the person who prompted our efforts in his own words. 

“Rainbow Street made me understand two things: Family is not about blood, and what makes us closer is much more than what makes us different.” -Osama

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LGBT Cinema in Focus: Seyed Mohsen Pourmohseni Shakib's "White Paper" (2011)

LGBT Cinema in Focus: Seyed Mohsen Pourmohseni Shakib's "White Paper" (2011)

Sitting at the edge of the Caspian Sea, Rasht, Iran is home to filmmaker and visual artist Seyed Mohsen Pourmohseni Shakib. Though Iran has made many important contributions to the world of cinema, it is safe to assume that attendees of LGBT film festivals would be surprised to encounter an entry from the Islamic Republic. If that presumption is valid, Shakib’s animated short film White Paper has been surprising festivalgoers since 2011.

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Rainbow Street Welcomes Graphic Designer Alyssa Kibiloski

Rainbow Street's new logo, designed by Alyssa Kibiloski

Rainbow Street's new logo, designed by Alyssa Kibiloski

Rainbow Street is excited to welcome Alyssa Kibiloski to our team! Alyssa is the founder and co-owner of Charlotte-based creative design business, Create-ster, LLC. She also works as Marketing Coordinator and Graphic Design Head at Community Care Partners of Greater Mecklenburg.

Alyssa has already designed an inspired new logo for Rainbow Street. Keep an eye out for more exciting changes to our website and printed literature coming soon! 

Besides her formidable talent and professionalism, Alyssa brings a great deal of passion and enthusiasm to our team. We very much look forward to working with her to advance our mission of serving queer and transgender people living in crisis in the Arab world. 

!أهلا وسهلا يا أليسا

John Oliver talks anti-gay laws in Uganda

Last week satirist John Oliver criticized Uganda's notorious oppressive anti-gay laws on his new HBO show "Last Week Tonight". Oliver highlights American involvement in the development of anti-gay Ugandan laws, the appointment of Sam Kutesa, Uganda's Minister of Foreign Affairs, to head of the United Nations General Assembly, and spoke with prominent Ugandan LGBT right advocate Pepe Julian Onziema. 

See the video below...

Jordanian Prince Appointed Next UN Human Rights Chief

Jordanian Prince Appointed Next UN Human Rights Chief

Al-Hussein will be the first Commissioner from the Arab World and Asian continent. His commitment to the promotion of queer and transgender rights remains unclear, but his appointment could mean increased scrutiny into the human rights situation in his home country. Anti-gay legislation has been off the books in Jordan since 1951, but queer and transgender individuals still face staggering challenges of discrimination when it comes to housing, legal protection, employment, personal dignity, and many other domains.

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Rainbow Street is Live

After much anticipation the Rainbow Street website, that you are viewing this blog post on, is LIVE! We are also now able to accept online donations so click here to make a donation or learn about other ways to get involved. 

We have set a fundraising goal of raising $5000 by August 31st so we can continue helping Ahmad as he finishes his studies and reach out to new identified beneficiaries this summer. 

We are also applying for 501(c)(3) status which means that your donations will be tax-deductible by the end of this year. 

This is all very exciting for the Rainbow Street team here in Oakland, CA and in Amman, Jordan. Thank you for your continued support in these early days of Rainbow Street. Check back here and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for future updates!

~ Clara