Jeff Sessions doesn’t look like a dangerous guy. On Saturday Night Live, he is often portrayed as a large rodent, or perhaps a possum; something with a long tail. Or alternatively, as an imp or Forrest Gump. Something annoying and gross, but not particularly dangerous. But while he may not seem like the most dangerous Trump appointee, make no mistake, he is.
Back when the 1951 Refugee Convention was drafted, despite the input of Eleanor Roosevelt, gender and sexual orientation were not thought of as a possible grounds for persecution. During the discussion on the grounds for persecution of people by their governments, the issue of gender persecution never came up, nor did the subject of homosexuality, which was a fertile grounds for persecution in most countries, including the United States. As a result, while the Nazis became famous for their persecution of Jews, Communists, dissidents, Roma and disabled people, their gender and sexual persecution was not acknowledged and continues to be under-explored today.
But as Jeff Sessions undoubtedly knows quite well, the Nazis persecuted both homosexuals and women on account of their perceived sexual deviancy and promiscuity. They also used gendered violence and rape as a means of persecution, particularly for gay people and strait women from targeted racial groups. Meanwhile, “Aryan” women were subjected to coercive programs to encourage them to have a minimum of four children and were bared from working, at least until they were needed to fill jobs. These facts have been largely obscured, unfortunately, because we continue to persecute women and gay people around the world, including in this country, for the same reasons.
To fix the lack of gender and sexual orientation as a grounds for persecution, UNHCR and the United States have begun using the “other social group” category to provide protection for women and gay men from gendered violence and persecution. Yesterday, Jeff Sessions just rolled back 20 years of progress in the United States on this issue. In so doing, he is taking advantage of the original oversight of the drafting committee of the 1951 Convention and, in Trump fashion, pretending that he is simply enforcing the law as written. The Nazis would be proud.
To do so, Sessions has made use of the inherent bias within the popular conception of a refugee to make it impossible to see the persecution of women, children and gay men as anything other than an accidental byproduct of instability.
“The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence or gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”
Countries don’t have “problems” policing certain crimes, the police are used as weapons to keep certain populations in order and to control societal norms of behavior. Where the police stop performing this function, vigilante groups and gangs of strait men will be happy to do it for them and then be celebrated for it in popular culture.
Unfortunately for many women, minorities and gay men, the United States is no safe haven from gendered violence. In fact, the United States excels in taking a group of people responsible for persecution and flipping the story around to make them the victims. I’m surprised there isn’t a Hollywood movie about how the Nazis were misunderstood victims of globalization and technological change, but maybe Sessions and Steve Bannon can do that next.