What can Faith Communities Do to Support LGBTQ Refugees and Asylum Seekers?
Recap from Part 1: 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 first post listed the top 5 things we learned from Love Welcome. Part 2 lays out a list of 5 things congregations can do to support LGBTQ refugees and asylees.
Top 5 Things faith communities can do to support LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers:
1. Connect with organizations doing work to support LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers
At the conference we had the privilege of hearing from organizations doing incredible work with refugees and asylum seekers across the country, such as the ones featured below. One of the best ways for congregations to lend their support is through a partner organization who can take the lead on suggesting what specific support is needed.
2. Donate gift cards for people to buy gender affirming clothes upon release from detention.
Typically, clothing donations don’t include clothing and shoes that fit transgender bodies. For example donated men’s pants may be too long or too big for transgender and gender nonconforming people assigned female at birth. Donated women’s shoes typically run from women’s size 8-11, but some transgender women assigned male at birth need at least a women’s size 12 shoe. Wearing clothing that fits your body and affirms your gender identity can literally be a lifesaver. Donating gift cards (such as a Visa or mastercard gift card) is one way congregations can affirm trans idenitites and support LGBTQ refugees and asylees at the same time. The Queer Detainee Empowerment Project works directly with LGBTQ refugees in detention and journies alongside those who have been released from detention. Your church could host a gift card drive and send them to their offices at: 505 8th Avenue #1212 NYC 10018
3. Visit or write letters to people in detention in an ongoing way to be a source of community
There are over 200 detention centers currently operating in the United States with over 40,000 people in detention on any given day. Many people in detention have reported how incredibly isolating it is, and feels like you are cut off from the outside world. LGBTQ people who are in detention may have been fleeing abusive conditions in their families, in their faith communities, or from their government. Those abuses may mean that LGBTQ are cut off from families, faith communities, and from those who share their cultural and ethnic background, which is a source of support other refugees can lean on. Setting up an ongoing visitation or letter-writing project within your faith community can be a powerful way to cut through the isolation and sense of disconnect many LGBTQ refugees feel. While it’s nice to receive a visit or letter once, the most powerful relationships and community can be formed by maintaining a connection with a particular person in detention. Your church has an opportunity to be their lifeline. The organization CIVIC: Ending the Isolation of Women and Men in U.S. Immigration Detention, operates visitation and letter-writing programs across the country. While CIVIC works with people in detention regardless of refugee or asylee status, they are sensitive and responsive to the needs of LGBTQ people in detention.
4. Acknowledge the healing you offer in being a truly inclusive faith community
We heard over and over again that while LGBTQ people seeking asylum in the US have experienced multiple physical traumas and ongoing abuse, the loss of faith and their faith community is perhaps the most devastating. Many people have justified the abuse of LGBTQ people on the grounds of religion (a concept familiar to many of us) and therefore many LGBTQ people seeking refuge in the US also feel abandoned by their Creator. Whether the LGBTQ refugees and asylees come from a Christian background or not, experiencing a welcoming faith community, and hearing from someone who is confident in God’s abundant and inclusive love for all of Creation can be a meaningful and important element of recovery and healing.
5. Commit to the internal work of being educated as a congregation
While passion for working with LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers is needed for a congregation to get involved, the commitment to learning and educating members of the congregation on the nuances of identities and experiences asylum seekers bring is paramount to providing the most hospitable environment possible. Fortunately, More Light is partnering with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Office to offer a Teach-In series to equip congregations to work with LGBTQ asylees and refugees. In this series, we will offer tools for congregations on how to best support LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers.
Keep in touch to learn the dates of 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.