Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in forced displacement

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in forced displacement experience compounding protection challenges and distinct vulnerabilities. Threats against LGBTI persons occur in all refugee situations, including cultural shame and stigma, life-threatening discrimination, physical violence, sexual and gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, prejudice from officials, humanitarian staff and/or refugee populations.

The UNHCR Emergency Handbook identifies LGBTI persons in forced displacement as persons with specific needs: “[…] girls and boys at risk, including unaccompanied and separated children, persons with serious health conditions, persons with special legal or physical protection needs, single women, women-headed households, older persons, persons with disabilities, and persons with a diverse sexual orientation or gender identity.”[1]

LGBTI people in forced displacement suffer targeted abuse as a direct result of their diverse sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI asylum-seekers and refugees experience widespread discrimination when accessing housing, employment, education, health and psychological care and other social services in host countries. They may be evicted from their housing and fired from jobs once their sexuality or gender identity is revealed. Corrective rape is often used against LGBTI women as a way to enforce normalised gender identities. Many transgender and intersex asylum-seekers and refugees suffer multiple discrimination based on their gender identity and often have to engage in survival sex.

Durable solutions must recognise the rights and dignities of LGBTI people. Resettlement may be the only viable durable solution for LGBTI refugees facing specific protection risks due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. Furthermore, it is imperative to recognise gender-diverse and same-sex couple as a family unit regardless the ability to prove it with documents, understanding the impossibility to live as an open family in their countries of origin.

While United Nations entities have integrated issues of sexual orientation and gender identity into their work, and are increasingly recognising the protection needs of LGBTI persons and other specific needs groups, there is still a long way to go in both language and practical application. Further protection needs and rights focused on providing trauma-informed, age-, gender-, ability- and sexuality-sensitive social support must be integrated and implemented.

Download for further information: References in relation to LGBTI persons in forced displacement with relevant excerpts


[1] UNHCR Emergency Handbook https://emergency.unhcr.org/entry/124731/identifying-persons-with-specific-needs-pwsn