Travel poses specific risks to LGBTQ staff. Allan & Associates provides a briefing on how these threats can be navigated sensitively and securely.
LGBTQ Travel-Risk Mitigation: A primer
Since September, the governments of Azerbaijan, Egypt, Russia and Tajikistan have all launched crackdowns on their LGBTQ communities. Despite homosexuality being nominally legal in all four jurisdictions, individuals have been arrested, harassed, and in some cases tortured by security forces. Torture ranges from electric shocks and beatings to forced anal examinations, and all pose a credible risk to life.
Legal protections have been ineffective, with governments justifying the arrests as necessary under morality or public health grounds. Governments have been supported in this by a lack of anti-discrimination legislation, powerful police services unaccountable to independent regulatory scrutiny, and widespread public disapproval of LGBTQ communities.
It is this last factor that presents significant complications to attempts by Western diplomats and international human-rights organisations to put political pressure on governments to end the crackdown, as leaders are unlikely to wish to expend valuable political capital to protect LGBTQ individuals when such actions gain them little internal support.
Allan & Associates notes that, in general, expatriates are less likely to suffer torture or arrest than local nationals. However, this cannot be guaranteed, and managers should not assume that staff are immune to this threat because of their national identity. Moreover, duty of care also extends to local employees.
Below, Allan & Associates provides support for companies and individuals in managing this threat.
The decision to deploy staff to areas where there is a high risk of arrest, detention and torture for LGBTQ individuals is one that managers should consider carefully and sensitively. Firstly, Allan & Associates notes that managers will not necessarily be aware of their staff’s sexual orientations, and that specifically asking for this information could breach national anti-discrimination law and should not be attempted. Secondly, refusing to send LGBTQ staff to areas managers deem high-risk, despite their best intentions, could conversely put companies at risk of accusations of discrimination and legal damages.
Having created a list of high-risk jurisdictions, managers should prepare comprehensive and tailored briefings on each country. This should set out the legal environment (both de jure and de facto), reported incidents of violence against local and expatriate LGBTQ individuals over the past ten years, and whether incidents of violence are orchestrated or condoned by state security agencies. This could form part of a more comprehensive and wide-ranging risk assessment, should managers deem it necessary.
Briefings should include positive advice on how at-risk staff can mitigate the risk of arrest and detention. These documents should be available to all personnel publicly, and staff should not have to specifically request the documents from their managers or other colleagues. Allan & Associates notes that managers should under no circumstances order individual personnel to adhere to such advice, or punish staff who refuse to comply:
- Online dating apps. There have been documented incidents of state security forces in Egypt using the LGBTQ dating app Grindr to entrap individuals to hotel rooms or secluded locations, whereupon they are (often violently) arrested by security forces. Although, from a security perspective, the safest solution would be to avoid the use of such apps altogether, Allan & Associates reiterates that companies should seek merely to flag the arrest associated with their use rather than directing employees against using them altogether. If staff are using such apps, one piece of advice would be to arrange initial meetings in public places during daylight hours. Personnel should assess the situation at a distance before making contact to identify potential suspicious behaviour. This could include the nearby presence of uniformed security officers, or the presence of loitering individuals in the area (who could be undercover operatives).
- LGBTQ establishments. LGBTQ-linked entertainment venues are at risk of being raided by security forces, and individuals attending such establishments could be arrested or harassed whilst accessing or egressing the site. If staff choose to visit such establishments, there are several measures they can take to reduce the personal risk to themselves. These include: avoiding overconsumption of alcohol, in order to maintain situational awareness, leaving establishments in groups, and refusing to travel anywhere with someone whose identity they cannot verify.
- Communications. Staff travelling in at-risk environments should ensure that relevant corporate personnel are informed of their movements insofar as is practical. This is particularly crucial when staff are using ride-hailing or flat-sharing apps, which – although convenient – are new technologies that security managers continue to adapt to. Managers should consider whether they can perform this function adequately, or whether other staff – such as human-resources or crisis-management personnel – would be more suitable. If staff are arrested or harassed by security forces, companies should immediately implement emergency communications protocols. This should involve contacting the relevant national embassy, which will be able to offer consular assistance and take measures to ensure staff are not mistreated; senior managers, who will be able to quickly authorise the deployment of specialist resources or leverage state-level contacts to recover employees; and informing all in-country staff of what has occurred and what actions should be taken.
- Peace of mind. Travel-risk management is highly complex, and requires robust policies and procedures to be followed company-wide. Everyone, from junior personnel to senior management teams, has a role to play in fulfilling duty-of-care requirements. Failure to do so can leave companies and individuals at significant commercial, legal and reputational risk. The key to effective travel-security delivery is intelligence, which is more effective than implementing myriad expensive technological systems in an attempt to secure ‘peace of mind’. Allan & Associates can provide clients with bespoke risk-mitigation services, including documentation, training, and practical support for companies. This can be bolstered by real-time monitoring systems to provide immediate actionable early-warning systems. In short, companies will have the tools needed to deploy LGBTQ staff in high-risk areas, whilst fulfilling their duty-of-care requirements.
Allan & Associates can provide global, national and sub-national assessments of security risk for all staff. Using open-source intelligence, a quantitative dataset and skilled analysts, we can provide managers with threat-assessments, allowing companies to make deployment. Further, specialist research can be conducted by our consulting team, drawn from intelligence, military and law enforcement services worldwide.
Founded more than 12 years ago in Hong Kong, Allan & Associates now has offices throughout Asia Pacific as well as London and Washington DC. We are well placed to supply businesses with a complete picture of global politics, security and trade.
Please contact us for a discreet conversation on your business’s particular needs.
Charlie Hiller, Head of Sales
+44207 523 5393