March 1, 2016 at 1:48 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Michael Guest: Anti-immigrant rhetoric ‘painful to hear’

Michael Guest, gay news, Washington Blade

Former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest on Monday spoke forcefully against the anti-immigrant rhetoric that many Republican presidential candidates have used on the campaign trail.

“The America that we have heard painted during this presidential campaign is so, so different from the America that I used to represent as a diplomat,” said Guest during a Council for Global Equality reception that took place in Northwest D.C. “It’s so painful to hear the dialogue. It’s so impossible to understand how U.S. diplomats now describe and explain their country abroad because we know that America really is at its best when its doors are open, when it is a beacon of hope for people like the people who have just spoken about their ordeals, when it’s a harbinger of hope.”

Guest, who is the first openly gay ambassador confirmed by the U.S. Senate, represented then-President George W. Bush’s administration in Romania from 2001-2004. He currently works for the Center for Global Equality as a senior advisor.

Guest in his remarks did not specifically mention Republican frontrunner Donald Trump or any of his GOP challengers. The former ambassador did refer to “the hateful rhetoric that we’ve heard during this campaign so far” that includes “talk of building walls” and “xenophobia.”

“This is our country,” said Guest. “No presidential candidate, no presidency is going to take our values and our character away from us.”

Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Richard; Special U.S. Envoy for the Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry and Organization for Refuge Asylum and Migration Executive Director Neil Grungras were among those who attended the reception.

A gay man from Azerbaijan who received asylum in the U.S. last June said that he was “severely” tortured and raped twice in his homeland because of his sexual orientation. He said he was forced to eat the feces of those who gang raped him for several hours.

The gay asylee, like Guest, rejected the anti-immigrant rhetoric from campaign trail.

“I am from a Muslim country,” he said. “I am terrified when I think that I may be required to wear a special tag or carry a colored ID to be identified as a Muslim.”

A gay Iraqi man who worked as a linguist for the U.S. Army said during the reception that members of a radical Islamic group in 2006 kidnapped him and forced him to confess his homosexuality “as a sin.” He said the same militants also killed his uncle.

The U.S. on March 25, 2014, granted him a visa that allowed him to leave Iraq. He flew from Baghdad to Chicago less than two months later.

“It was so hard to believe that I had made it to America,” he said. “I had arrived in America and it felt unbelievable. It was like a dream come true. I felt like I could breathe in the freedom.”

Country ‘cannot shut its doors’ to refugees

President Obama last September announced the U.S. will allow at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to resettle in the country this year. The Organization for Refuge Asylum and Migration has called upon the White House to set aside 500 of these “slots” for those who are fleeing the war-torn country because of anti-LGBT persecution from the so-called Islamic State and other militant groups.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the Washington Blade last December that the administration will not set aside a specific number of “slots” for LGBT Syrian refugees, but it will prioritize asylum requests from those who face persecution in their homeland because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These comments came less than a month after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would suspend the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the U.S.

U.S. Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) were among the 47 Democrats who supported the measure that passed six days after the Paris terrorist attacks.

“The U.S. cannot shut its doors to the refugees,” said the gay Iraqi man during the Council for Global Equality reception. “It cannot shut its doors on people whose very lives are at stake.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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