What makes IOM an LGBTI-friendly organization?

3 years 11 months ago

In many countries, LGBTI people do not receive the support they need. Often, they must hide their sexual orientation and gender identity. Or worse, they experience violence and threats from the surrounding community. LGBTI migrants who are in transit or host countries may also face prejudices or discrimination.

To raise awareness of LGBTI matters, IOM Finland’s staff was trained by UN regional LGBTI-trainer, Ms. Homa Hasan from IOM Norway. IOM and UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) are the leading UN agencies in having developed a comprehensive training package on the protection of LGBTI people for staff members as well as the broader humanitarian community.

LGBTI people may face discrimination in their country of origin

LGBTI, shortened for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexual, is an umbrella term for a range of sexual and gender minorities. In addition to the acronym, the letters Q (queer, or questioning) and A (asexual) can be added to the end. The needs of LGBTI people are often neglected, which may contribute to their vulnerability.

LGBTI people may face a multitude of challenges, including discrimination, prejudice and even violence. In 72 countries same-sex sexual relations are criminalised, while in eight of these a maximum penalty of death may be applied. Therefore, many have no other choice but to flee to safer grounds. However, attitudes are slowly changing and for example, in September 2018 India legalised same-sex relations.

LGBTI migrants do not always receive a warm welcome

LGBTI migrants meet many authorities, including the police, border guards, immigration specialists, social workers, reception centre staff and medical experts. It is crucial that these actors treat LGBTI migrants with dignity and respect as the migrants may have had negative experiences with authorities in their country of origin. When authorities in the host country place asylum seekers and refugees in municipalities, some LGBTI migrants may feel that they are not welcomed by the local community. Especially in rural areas, there might not be access to LGBTI-friendly spaces.

Being ostracised by the surrounding community leaves LGBTI migrants isolated and facing challenges in establishing support networks. It should also be noted that if the country that the migrant is from typically has a hostile attitude towards LGBTI people, other migrants from that country might have similar attitudes. In many cases, being an LGBTI migrant means facing double discrimination: being a migrant and being an LGBTI person.

IOM promotes LGBTI rights

IOM’s priority is to protect and assist migrants. IOM pays attention to the various needs LGBTI people may have and is providing training on the matter. In the training sessions, the focus is on raising awareness, in addition to also educating how to best accommodate the needs of LGBTI migrants and to use the right terminology. For example, when migrants are assisted during travel, IOM ensures that they are supported when going through immigration points and security checks. This is especially important if their travel document does not match their gender expression, or if they are carrying medication.

IOM honours the rights of LGBTI people in various ways. For example, IOM Oslo staff has been a part of the Oslo Pride several times and promotes IOM’s commitment to LGBTI rights. Globally, IOM observes the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia (IDAHOTB) annually, and IOM is an equal and inclusive workplace for all, with safe offices and spaces for both migrants and staff members. LGBTI rights are human rights. Equality and freedom from discrimination are fundamental human rights that belong to all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

If you would like to have more information about the regional training on LGBTI matters conducted by IOM, kindly contact us via e-mail: iomhelsinki [at] iom.int.


Laura Riuttala and Jutta Stenholm

The authors work for the UN Migration Agency IOM’s country office in Finland.

The views expressed by the authors in the IOM Finland blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the International Organization for Migration.