A new mentorship initiative aimed at improving LGBTQ refugees’ chances at success in North America has been launched by Tent Partnership for Refugees and the Human Rights Campaign.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Tent Partnership for Refugees, a network of over 130 major companies committed to integrating refugees into their new homelands, joined forces to mobilize businesses in North America to support LGBTQ refugees.
The first-ever North American Business Summit on LGBTQ Refugees was held via Zoom and moderated by Queer Forty’s Editor-in-Chief Merryn Johns, who made opening remarks setting the context for the plight of displaced LGBTQ persons fleeing their homelands of origin. Altogether, 23 companies announced their collective commitment on Dec. 8 to provide mentorship opportunities to approximately 1,250 LGBTQ refugees over the next three years.
At the event’s opening ‘fireside chat’ with Queer Forty Editor-in-Chief Merryn Johns, Iranian refugee Aram Hassanlee offered a window onto the refugee experience as he told the story of fleeing his birthplace of Iran and relocating to Canada where he found employment at a TD Bank after seeing a welcoming rainbow flag.
In the following panel, esteemed speakers Ambassador Samantha Power (former US Ambassador to the UN), Alphonso David (President of the Human Rights Campaign), and Hamdi Ulukayu (CEO of Chobani and Founder of Tent Partnership for Refugees) offered their expertise and insight in order to underscore the urgent need for the initiative — and to encourage corporate leaders to step up and adopt mentorship programs as part of their workplace structures.
“There are still far too many countries that persecute people for who they love or who they are,” said Ambassador Power, who serves on Tent’s Advisory Council. “While we must do more to provide a safe haven for those who need to flee, we must also do more to help them stand on their feet when they’re resettled in their new homes. Businesses mentoring LGBTQ refugees is a step in the right direction — and will make a meaningful difference in refugees’ lives.”
“Refugees have been disproportionately affected by the economic crisis, with many losing their jobs — and we know that LGBTQ refugees face even bigger hurdles,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani and founder of Tent. “Especially in the current economic climate, I am incredibly proud of the companies standing up for human rights and dignity — including Chobani. The business community must use its power to build more inclusive communities that protect the most vulnerable among us.”
“LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers are fleeing the same persecution and violence facing refugees across the world. Many are fleeing places where simply being who they are puts them in danger of imprisonment or even death,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. “LGBTQ refugees, like all people, deserve the ability to not only survive, but to thrive as newcomers. Partnering with Tent and the business community on this initiative will impact the lives of countless LGBTQ refugees.”
In a separate panel featuring NGO’s that work with refugees, Steve Roth (ORAM), Jose Luis Loera (Casa Refugiados) and Forouz Salari (The 519) highlighted the many challenges for LGBTQ refugees as they seek to integrate into their new communities, and what resources would work best for them.
As many as 300 corporate employees and business representatives attended the event. The 23 businesses who have each pledged to mentor at least 50 LGBTQ refugees via their LGBTQ Employee Resource Groups will help prepare refugees to enter the job market, and gain access to employment opportunities. Eyewear company Warby Parker will mentor LGBTQ refugees in New York, whereas Hilton will mentor refugees in Dallas and Washington D.C., and Under Armour will focus its mentoring activities in Austin and Baltimore. Accenture, an HRC Platinum corporate partner, is mentoring refugees in Toronto.
Many LGBTQ refugees have been forced to flee their home countries due to persecution directly related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Sixty-nine countries still criminalize same-sex relations, and nine may impose the death penalty. Transgender people face incredible levels of discrimination and violence without legal recourse in countries around the globe. While there are no official figures available, it is estimated that Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. each host thousands of LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers.
“As a journalist who has spent 20 years covering LGBTQ issues, I was thrilled to be asked to moderate this panel highlighting an issue that has only become more pressing as we embark upon a truly a global future,” said Merryn Johns, Editor-in-Chief of Queer Forty. “The global pandemic has shown us how connected we are, and how we must help each other as there is no escape from the problems we create on this planet. I was heartened to see so many mainstream companies embrace LGBTQ refugees as assets to their businesses rather than as threats, which has been the dominant narrative for the past four years. Here is another sign that we can look to a brighter future if we work together.”
About the Tent Partnership for Refugees
With more and more refugees displaced for longer periods of time, businesses have a critical role to play in helping refugees integrate economically in their new host communities. The Tent Partnership for Refugees mobilizes the global business community to improve the lives and livelihoods of 30 million refugees who have been forcibly displaced from their home countries. Founded by Chobani’s founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya in 2016, we are a network of over 130 major companies committed to including refugees. Tent believes that companies can most sustainably support refugees by leveraging their core business operations – by engaging refugees as potential employees, entrepreneurs and consumers.
About the Human Rights Campaign
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is the educational arm of HRC.