Waving signs reading “Why Do We Fear Those Most Needing Help?” and “We Are All Immigrants,” demonstrators who oppose President Trump’s latest executive order against refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority Middle Eastern countries filled Lafayette Park Sunday to denounce the policy as contrary to America’s values.
The protest, organized by Peace for Iran, comes the day after widespread outrage as travelers were detained at U.S. airports as the result of Trump’s directive. Decried as a Muslim ban, LGBT advocates were among those who condemned the policy.
Kent Fogg, a gay 31-year-old D.C. resident, said he came to protest the executive order because he opposed it based on his experience working for human rights overseas in Kosovo, a Muslim-majority country.
“I just spent the last two years living as a guest in a majority Muslim country in Kosovo,” Fogg said. “Everyone was not only incredibly open and welcoming to me, but they look to America as a model of a place that’s welcoming. And as a country in the Balkans that recently had its own refugee crisis, you heard the personal stories of what people went through, why people become refugees, and it’s just inhumane and against everything we stand for for us not to have the compassion that’s required to respond to the situations that are going on, and to let people in regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds.”
The order bans from the United States all Syrian refugees; blocks all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days pending review; reduces the total of number of refugees allowed for fiscal year 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000; institutes a religious test favoring Christians from Muslim-majority countries; and for at least 90 days bans immigration from seven countries — Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia — even by legal permanent residents of the United States. (Senior administration officials said legal permanent residents from those countries can obtain a waiver to enter the United States.)
After Trump signed the order, immigrants coming from those nations were detained at airports, prompting demonstrations at airports throughout the country. One traveller, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi translator who assisted the U.S. government, was detained at JFK Airport until Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) came to assist.
As a result of litigation filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly issued an order requiring the release of individuals detained at airports, which includes immigrants with approved refugee applications, valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas and immigrants from the seven countries where all immigration was halted who are otherwise authorized to enter the United States. The order doesn’t enjoin the federal government from enforcing Trump’s directive in its entirety.
A strong presence from D.C.’s LGBT community could be seen at the demonstration at the White House on Sunday. Many refugees coming to the United States are fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. One perpetuator of anti-LGBT violence is the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria, which has a reputation for killing men perceived as gay by throwing them from the rooftops of buildings.
Joe Sudbay, a gay D.C.-based progressive activist and blogger, was among those at the demonstration and said it was important to “make your voice heard in front of the White House” against Trump.
“Donald Trump needs to know, the American people, the people of D.C., do not stand for hate, do not stand for the Muslim ban, do not stand for his wall,” Sudbay said. “We’re vehemently opposed to his policies. He’s out of touch, and we need to tell him, and we need to tell him all the time.”
Amid continuing fallout, President Trump defended his executive order in a statement Sunday, blaming the media for “falsely reporting” the action as a Muslim ban.
“This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe,” Trump added. “There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days. I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as president I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.”
The executive order itself makes reference to anti-gay persecution overseas by saying the United States “should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred…those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.” Yemen, Iran, Sudan and Somalia are among the countries where same-sex relations are punishable by death; Iraq, Libya and Syria have criminal laws against it.
Rachel Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, said in a statement that despite Trump’s recognition of anti-gay persecution overseas, LGBT people “refuse to be pawns in Mr. Trump’s dangerous and inhumane game.”
“We utterly reject his discrimination against Muslims in the guise of concern trolling for LGBT rights,” Tiven added. “If he really wants to help LGBT people, he can pledge to retain the Executive Orders that help protect us and to nominate a Supreme Court justice who supports equal treatment of all regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
At the White House demonstration, one protester held up a cardboard sign quoting the portion of the executive order on anti-gay persecution overseas, followed by the words, “I would like to be excluded from the narrative: A gay Arab-American from Orlando.”
Sean Cuddihy, who lived in Orlando before moving to D.C., said he came to the demonstration to call out Trump for efforts harming the image of the United States in the name of protecting LGBT people.
“I think it’s bizarre that the president claims to be protecting gay Americans from threats from abroad,” Cuddihy said. “When my grandmother’s family came to this country from Lebanon, I don’t think anybody could have predicted my existence as an Arab-American gay person who fully believes in welcoming people to this country with open arms. I think the president should know that this new policy is illogical, irresponsible, destructive in terms of our standing in the world and needs to go.”
Much of the anger at the protest was directed toward White House strategist Steve Bannon, who was subjected to chants of “Fire Bannon! Fire Bannon!” Another chant was “No Hate! No Fear! Refugees are Welcome Here!” Yet another chant, “Hands Too Small!” was directed at Trump’s appearance.
Tekla Taylor, a 26-year-old lesbian in attendance at the demonstration, held up a sign at the rally with the words “Queer America Supports Refugees” on one side and the word “Peace” in rainbow letters on the reverse.
“It feels so important — more than ever — to just make our voices heard about everything, and especially about just all of this hatred,” Taylor said. “Us in the queer community know what that’s like. And the other thing is that there are queer people around the world that it’s already hard from them to get asylum, so it directly impacts gay and trans refugees around the world that really might need to get out and might not be able to now if we keep closing ourselves off to that.”