ORAM appoints new ED

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday July 31, 2019
Share this Post:
Steve Roth is the new executive director of the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration. Photo: Courtesy Alight
Steve Roth is the new executive director of the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration. Photo: Courtesy Alight

Steve Roth has been tapped to head the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration.

ORAM announced Roth's appointment as the LGBT refugee and asylum organization's new executive director July 16.

Roth, 49, is a gay man and succeeds founder and longtime executive director Neil Grungras, who announced he was stepping down in March.

"I'm extremely excited by this new role and this new opportunity," said Roth, adding he was looking forward to building on Grungras' work.

Roth recognized that refugees, asylum seekers, and migration are making headlines daily.

"It's an important topic for our time and where sexual orientation and gender identity minorities ... fit within that is really important," he said. "Personally, I don't feel like [LGBTQI refugees have] been enough a part of the broader conversations that have been happening. That's something that we want to change."

ORAM, founded in 2008, was the first to recognize the needs of, and serve, LGBT refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants worldwide. The organization became a member of Alight (formerly American Refugee Committee), its parent organization, in 2017.

"I am delighted to welcome Steve Roth into the ORAM family. His dedication and experience in advocating for the most marginalized will be a great asset to ORAM," said board Chair Rochelle Fortier Nwadibia in a news release announcing Roth's appointment. "Steve brings to the job an exceptional combination of energy, sensitivity and proven leadership, and I am excited to see ORAM's future under his leadership."

Alight CEO Daniel Wordsworth praised Roth's hiring in the release, stating that he is "exactly what's needed" for the organization's future.

"Steve brings a wealth of experience advocating on behalf of LGBTIQ people, including years campaigning internationally for workplace inclusion and equality," said Wordsworth. "He's exactly what's needed as ORAM works to deepen its impact and support for LGBTIQ and extremely vulnerable refugees around the world."

Roth co-founded and directed Alturi, a global LGBT organization, in 2015 before he built the Out & Equal Workplace Advocate's Global Initiatives as its senior director. Roth also founded, and was a principal of, OutThink Partners, a Beverly Hills-based marketing communications firm and served as a communications consultant for Equality California.

ORAM's future

Three weeks into the job when the Bay Area Reporter spoke with him during a phone interview July 22, Roth was already busy working on identifying the needs and current landscape of LGBT refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. He was also taking stock of the organization's resources and partnerships.

"One of the things that I'm excited about is coming in to see where the needs are today," Roth said.

ORAM's budget is $500,000, Roth said. According to its 2017 IRS Form 990, the most recently available filing on GuideStar, Grungras' salary was just over $99,000.

Roth will be heading up the organization from his base in Los Angeles with the support of three full-time team members based in Berlin, he said.

Roth has already noted the rapidly changing landscape for people fleeing their homelands for better lives in more stable countries. The shift from welcoming immigration policies to a nationalistic focus in many countries is changing ORAM's original resettlement plan to supporting refugees and migrants in their current locations.

Roth said that the "door is being closed" on past strategies of getting LGBT migrants out of secondary countries, like Turkey and Kenya, which traditionally temporarily hosted refugees, and resettled into their permanent host countries as fast as possible. Refugees and asylum seekers are staying longer in secondary countries.

Additionally, new secondary countries are emerging. It is starting to appear that Mexico is also becoming a secondary country hosting the migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, he said, pointing out the ongoing migration to there from Central and South America.

"Mexico is going to kind of become that transit country," he said. "I suspect that's going to leave a lot more LGBTQI refugees in Mexico, probably in some kind of refugee state or status."

Roth, who hasn't been to the U.S.-Mexico border to meet with LGBT asylum seekers yet, doesn't know how many LGBT people in Central and South America, particularly transgender women, are at various stages of their asylum journey. What he does know is that President Donald Trump's administration "is changing the rules by the day to make it even more difficult for asylum seekers to even make a case and that's going to impact people."

Migration from Latin America is new terrain for ORAM, which has worked mostly in Turkey assisting refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.

"It's not an area that ORAM has worked in in the past, immigration coming from Latin America," he said, stating that it's definitely "part of the changing landscape that we are going to look at and see how we can bring our skills or resources to help these people in need."

Roth plans to continue working in areas where ORAM became a leader if it meets current conditions, needs, and resources. At the same time, due to the shifting landscape surrounding immigration he's keeping his eyes open for where ORAM is needed, which includes areas where the organization hasn't ventured into before, he said.

For more information, visit http://www.oramrefugee.org.

Study: Gays who are out face easier path to asylum in Germany

The more "gay" Middle Eastern asylum seekers are, the easier it is to receive asylum in Germany, according to a new report.

A study, "Between queer liberalisms and Muslim masculinities: LGBTQI+ Muslim asylum assessment in Germany," published by the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies July 26, claims that Middle Eastern LGBT people who don't fit the queer narrative or ideal are less likely to be granted asylum in Germany.

Ideally, Middle Eastern LGBT asylum seekers have to "prove" their queerness by demonstrating how out they are, the report stated. This can be done by being connected with LGBT organizations in their country and/or Germany and going to gay venues and events, such as Pride.

"In order to gain asylum, asylum seekers must convince officials of their permanent identity as 'gay,' 'lesbian,' 'trans,' 'bi,' and/or 'intersex,'" said Mengia Tschalaer, Ph.D., the author of the report. "They also need to demonstrate that their sexual and gender identity has led to them being persecuted in their home country."

Furthermore, Tschalaer noted that queer people who demonize their home country and idealize Germany's liberality were more likely to be granted asylum in the country.

LGBT people who are closeted, married and/or have children, or came from abusive situations were less likely to be granted asylum, the study noted.

The Federal Office in Germany registered 1.6 million refugees in the country between 2016 and 2018, according to the report.

Germany doesn't maintain statistics based on refugees' sexual orientation or gender identity, but the Lesbian, Gay, Association Germany in Cologne estimated there are 60,000 LGBT people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen in the Middle East and from Algeria, Sudan, Uganda, and other African countries, according to the report.

Homosexuality is illegal in more than 73 countries and carries prison sentences from three to 11 years or even the death penalty.

Tschalaer, who is from the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol in England, interviewed 15 LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers from Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Pakistan. She also interviewed asylum lawyers and judges in Berlin and Cologne and LGBTI refugee counseling centers in Cologne, Munich, Heidelberg, and Mannheim.

She found that some lesbians and transgender individuals suffered the most from the criteria.

Many of these applicants were in the closet, traumatized by domestic violence or fear of coming out due to anti-gay laws and social stigmatization.

"LGBTQI+ asylum seekers who felt forced to hide their sexuality and/or gender identity, and who felt uncomfortable talking about it were usually rejected," said Tschalaer in a July 26 news release.

The same was true for "those who were married or had children in their countries of origin," she continued. "This was either because they were not recognized or believed as being LGBTQI+, or because they were told to hide in their country of origin since they had not come out yet."

Inappropriate and illegal questions about applicants' sex lives were also asked during interviews, some LGBT asylum seekers said.

Asking about an individual's sex life is against European Union law.

Some translators provided by the federal office only compounded LGBT asylum seekers' fears that they were interjecting their own prejudices and weren't translating their experiences properly during interviews. This caused some LGBT asylum seekers not to speak openly about their experiences, Tschalaer explained.

"One Somali man said that his fear and shame of coming out as gay — coupled with his translator's known negative attitudes toward homosexuals — stopped him from being able to talk openly about his sexuality, leading to the rejection of his asylum claim," she said.

Lesbian women from sub-Saharan Africa were harshly judged under the criteria. Officers from the federal office rejected their applications 98% of the time, according to the report.

"That's a very, very high rate when you compare to the medium rate of around 60% for that category of seekers," she said.

The study found that a majority of successful applicants were well-informed about the asylum process expectations, were born male, came from middle to upper-class backgrounds, were educated, and some had connections to German LGBT organizations when they applied for asylum.

To read the study, visit http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01419870.2019.1640378 .

Bulgarian court recognizes same-sex marriage

A landmark ruling in Bulgaria last week could open the gates to usher in same-sex marriage in the Balkan country.

On July 24, a Bulgarian court ruled that Cristina Palma, an Australian who is living and working in Bulgaria with her wife, Mariama Dialo, who is French, was granted the right to continue living and working in the country.

It was a two-year legal battle for the couple, who had been together for 15 years before getting married in France in 2016. They later moved to Bulgaria.

Bulgaria has been a member of the European Union since 2007. The ruling is in accordance with the 2018 European Court of Justice Ruling that EU nations must recognize same-sex marriages from other member states, even if the country hasn't legalized same-sex marriage.

Same-sex marriage is constitutionally banned in Bulgaria.

The couple's lawyer, Denitsa Lyubenova, and representatives of Sofia Pride believe the ruling could be an important first step toward legalizing same-sex marriage in Bulgaria.

"It gives hope to all same-sex couples, regardless of their citizenship, that their families will be recognized in Bulgaria," organizers said in a statement from Sofia Pride in response to the ruling.

Gay Star News folds

Online global gay newspaper Gay Star News announced it folded July 30.

Ben Hunte, BBC LGBT correspondent, broke the news on Twitter late July 29.

The sudden closure, effective immediately, sent shockwaves through LGBT media.

Attitude owner Darren Styles called the closure a "great shame."

The gay magazine publisher lamented in a tweet, "LGBTQ media is a small enough place as it is."

He also offered to hire some of the 20 former GSN reporters who suddenly found themselves unemployed.

The online gay news outlet, launched in 2012, was listed as one of the top five gay news outlets in the world, reported Pink News.

In an open letter to readers published Tuesday, Tris Reid-Smith and Scott Nunn, founders of the news site, partially blamed the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit and a new trend in "tokenism" and "rainbow wash."

The founders explained that companies were being selective of which LGBT organizations to support. Rainbow washing is when brands indicate support of the LGBT community by making their logos gay-friendly rather than donating to LGBT organizations or supporting LGBT media outlets through advertising.

"Worse still, we have learned that some brands have done this while at the same time funding anti-LGBTI politicians to the tune of millions of dollars," wrote the founders. "Tokenism has reached a new low."

Additionally, despite entering 2019 with confidence, as the year progressed assurance waned with delays with projects and major decisions, they wrote.

"Until the very end we had good reason to believe we would survive. We have fought through and won through so many times. We were incredibly close. But this one has broken us, and truly broken our hearts," wrote Reid-Smith and Nunn.

"We are convinced we are closing at a time when more people want and need what we offer than ever before," the founders wrote, noting that readership was at a high, but finances weren't as robust.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp: 415-517-7239, or Skype: heather.cassell, or [email protected].

Updated, 8/2/19: This article was updated to include ORAM's current budget figure.