On October 20-21, Alex and Jess traveled to New York represent More Light at Love Welcome, a conference on supporting LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers. We gathered with about 65 other folks at The First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York who were interested in learning from and teaching one another on how to best support LGBTQ refugees and asylum sekers. The conference was hosted by More Light in partnership with First Presbyterian Church and other offices from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., including: Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, The Office of Public Witness, The Office of Immigration Issues, and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.
The goal behind the conference was to bring together agencies working with LGBTQ people and agencies working with refugee populations and to recognize ways in which these ministries overlap, and to begin to map out a model for the best ways congregations can be of support and service. At More Light, we often hear from congregational leaders who have active ministries to both LGBTQ people and refugees, and who want to be a better source of support to both populations but may be unsure how best to do so.
Our two days together were packed. We heard a number of powerful presentations from folks, ranging from former refugees to a UN Human Rights Officer. We learned a lot of new information that will be included in our upcoming teach-in on supporting LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers.
To capture some of the amazing content at the conference, we’ve created a list of the top 5 things we learned at Love Welcome. Later this week, we’ll release our top 5 ways congregations can support LGBTQ refugees and asylees. Soon we will share dates for our upcoming Teach-In on Congregational support for LGBTQ refugees and asylees in partnership with agencies of the Presbyterian Church, USA. If you are interested in learning more, and want to be among the first to hear when the new teach-in will be launched, just let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top 5 things we learned at the Love Welcome Conference
1. There is a difference between refugees and asylum seekers.
Often, unless we’ve had the opportunity to learn about the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers, the language can be confusing. There are currently 65 million displaced people in the world; some are refugees, some are seeking asylum. A refugee is someone outside the country who is seeking safe entry. “Refugee” status is a legal definition and process.
An asylum seeker is someone who’s already within the country and is trying to get asylum. Currently, a person must file for asylum status within the first year in the U.S. Meeting this requirement can be particularly difficult for LGBTQ people, who often do not have much familial or community support either at home or in the country where they are seeking refuge.
2. You can’t talk about issues facing refugees and asylum seekers without talking about the role of detention centers.
Many refugees and asylum seekers are sent to detention centers without any
due process, or without even having committed a crime.
The detention system itself lacks the transparency to give a clear idea of conditions, regulations or oversight of many detention centers. Inadequate resources often result in unsafe, even inhumane, conditions in detention centers. The privatization of many detention centers further complicates these issues.
Transgender asylum seekers are often put in centers matching their assigned sex, which can increase rates of sexual harassment or assault. As a result, many are often put in solitary confinement.
3. An LGBTQ identity further complicates the already difficult circumstances of being a refugee or asylum seeker.
Refugees and asylum seekers are fleeing home countries that are dangerous enough that the only solution is to flee. For LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers, the challenges faced are compounded. As a result, many LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers are not out about their identities.
In order to gain entry into a country legally, you must have a visa. Because of the circumstances of many LGBTQ people and the resources necessary to gain a visa in one’s home country, the process is often nearly impossible for LGBTQ people facing persecution in their home countries.
Many LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers have experienced significant trauma in their home countries because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, often this violence has been sanctioned by the church or the state. For those who do manage to flee their home country, instances of sexual harassment and assault do not improve once they reach a country “safer” than their home.
Many LGBTQ people, whose identity documents do not match their gender expression, aren’t even able cross borders out of their own countries or into safer ones.
4. For LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers, access to the community resources that are so vital in helping an asylee settle in a new community are cut off.
Community is a fundamental part of helping an asylum seeker settle in a new country, and family plays a fundamental role in establishing community. Many LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers are running from not only oppressive governments, but also their own family.
Additionally, spouses of people typically seeking asylum in a country are also granted asylum, however, many LGBTQ asylum seekers come from countries where their relationships are not recognized by the state. In addition, many LGBTQ refugees are fleeing their own families, so the familial support that refugees typically have is non-existent.
Faith can be a source of spiritual, emotional, and mental stability in the midst of a very unstable process. Many LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers have rejected their faith traditions as a form of coping after their experiences of abuse and trauma within their own faith communities.
5. Telling one’s story can be a powerful way for someone to reclaim their identity as beloved.
Oral histories can be a powerful tool for LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers to tell their own stories and to hear stories that connect to their own, which can decrease isolation and remind
people of their inherent dignity and worth.
Faith communities are the #1 ally for LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers!!On our next blog entry, we will discuss the ways in which faith communities can do to support LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers.