De Leon: Welcoming LGBT Migrants Fleeing Persecution

LGBT immigrants

Rainbow Bridges provides guidance on integrating LGBT refugees. (Photo: Claudia A. De La Garza/flickr)

In this day and age, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals continue to be treated like second class citizens in the U.S. Yet LGBT people from overseas still come in droves since they have it much worse in their home countries.

Close to 90 nations have laws against homosexuality. In 72 countries, a person can be imprisoned for simply being who they are—LGBT. In seven countries, a person can be put to death for being born LGBT. In some countries, “corrective rape” is acceptable and sometimes committed by government officials.

An increasing number of LGBT people flee discrimination, intimidation, and violence in their homelands and seek a better life in the United States.

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration (ORAM) estimates that we receive about 2,000 refugees a year who are fleeing persecution based on their gender orientation or identity, representing six percent of all refugees in America. Unlike other displaced migrants, those who are LGBT often undergo the integration process alone, shunned by religious and immigrant communities that form the safety net for most newly arrived immigrants, especially refugees and asylees.

Thankfully, there are communities that have stepped forward to welcome and embrace LGBT refugees. The Hawden Park Congregational Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, for instance, has formed a group of volunteers dedicated to supporting and empowering LGBT asylees.

ORAM has just released the first-ever guide to welcoming LGBT migrants for groups like church volunteers and others who are willing to aid these displaced individuals.

Rainbow Bridges, a 48-page guide developed in a pilot project to resettle LGBT refugees in San Francisco, offers practical, step-by-step guidance on welcoming these new refugees, ensuring their mental and physical well-being, and helping them find support in their new country. It includes sample forms, a suggested code of conduct and outlines avenues for refugees to receive housing, employment, and federal assistance.

“There are immediate ways those of us in the U.S. can support members of our LGBT community facing persecution overseas,” said Neil Grungras, Executive Director of ORAM. “Uniting in support of queer asylum seekers and refugees is a powerful way of building community and reversing homophobia.”

Rainbow Bridges can help communities welcome and support these vulnerable individuals as they build new lives in the United States.

“LGBT refugees need a different reception for our differences and culture. If I were not gay, I would have easily been accepted into the African-American community and offered the services I needed; instead I faced further discrimination and restricted resources,” said Buchi Miles-Tuck, a gay asylee from Nigeria who said he fled two days before he was going to be killed. Fortunately, he found an LGBT group that welcomed him.

LGBT immigrants in the U.S. may have a long way to go before they have equal rights and treatment, but for many, life is far better here. As Miles-Tuck said, with the support he received, “you can get off the plane and experience how to be free in your own skin.”

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

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