BY THOMAS ‘TJ’ ROGERS
Although fear is a legitimate emotion – one I would never discount – fear has a tendency to create paranoia. This could not be more apparent than in the alleged connection between terrorist attacks in Paris and the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.
First, the individuals who committed these acts of terrorism were part of a small fraction of people claiming to be Muslim; they are extremists. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of these acts are ignorantly assumed to represent an entire group of people. This is just foolish. Our politicians have exacerbated our fear with hasty legislation (most recently, the ridiculous America SAFE Act of 2015) and by spreading misinformation, which itself, is ultimately guided by a fear of the unknown.
Does this sound familiar? It should, because the LGBT community once upon a time was the “unknown.” In Michigan, and indeed around the country, the LGBT community is no stranger to discrimination. We know what it’s like to be beaten down, told we are less than and be deprived of our rights. And in times of hysteria, we’ve been scapegoats and been blamed for diseases and natural disasters.
It’s absurd. It’s illogical. And yet, now it’s happening to Syrian refugees. The LGBT community lives at a multitude of intersections and oppressions; we are a part of every facet of life, and believe it or not, this “we” includes the men and women fleeing Syria and other countries where it is illegal to be LGBT. To that end, we have a moral responsibility to welcome and support our refugee brothers and sisters, LGBT or otherwise, from around the globe. And we should not sit complacent when hateful, hurtful rhetoric is used for an entire group of people.
So let’s talk facts: a “refugee” is an individual outside of her/his country of origin who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership within a particular social group and is unable or unwilling to avail her-/himself to the protection of that country. As it relates to the United States, the term “refugee” often refers to resettled refugees, or individuals who have proven to meet the aforementioned definition prior to arrival. Such people have gone through a rigorous vetting process complete with extensive background and security checks by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies (including the State Department, Department of Defense, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center), as well as collection of biometrics and thorough health screenings – a process that currently takes between 18 months and three years.
At Freedom House – a Detroit based nonprofit organization providing comprehensive services to indigent survivors of persecution from around the world at no charge – we help asylum seekers. The term “asylum seeker” is by definition the same as a refugee. However, these individuals apply for protected status while on our soil. Asylum seekers like refugees come from all over the world, from countries desecrated by corruption and torn apart by violence. Reaching safety is unquestionably the ultimate goal for asylum seekers and refugees and the allure of the “American Dream” gives them hope for a new beginning. To deny Syrian – and indeed, any – refugees this dream is to deny them hope for a new beginning and their inherent dignity and rights.
We are a country founded by people fleeing persecution – people who today would have been asylum seekers or refugees. This Thanksgiving, and in the days ahead, I hope that we continue to uphold America’s legacy as a place of compassion and refuge for all people, regardless of one’s nationality, religion, political opinion, race or sexuality. We can keep our country safe without compromising our values. So let’s fearlessly forge ahead and extend an open hand, rather than a clenched fist, to our brothers and sisters in need.
BY THOMAS ‘TJ’ ROGERS