Thursday, September 26, 2013

WWJD for Queers Fleeing Terror, and Why Should Integrity Care?

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
-Matthew 25: 34-40

One day my friend and I were stopped by the police in a remote area.  I was tortured and raped by the policeman [because I was gay].  I can still hear the other policemen who were watching laughing and jeering. The pain was like none other I had ever experienced.   I went to the hospital.  I didn’t report to work for days.  When I did go back to work, I quit my job. I was too terrified to step out of my house.  I tried to report this attack, but the police officer who took the report laughed in my face.   The very next day, the policeman who had tortured me came to my house and shouted, “Open up!  We already know who you are and we are going to kill you.”  So I left my beautiful country.  I left my job, my home, my belongings, my studies.  Two friends helped me get out.  I came to California and stayed with some relatives, but soon, after realizing that I was gay, they kicked me out and I was homeless.
-“Juan,” a gay man from El Salvador
More of Juan’s story is available here

It is illegal to be openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in approximately 80 countries throughout the world, including five that impose the death penalty.  Unchecked violence against LGBT people is rampant in many additional countries as well: violence like murder, torture, mutilation, and gang rape.

At least 4,000 people flee to the United States fleeing that terror every year, but until they are granted asylum by the U.S. Government many of them face months of friendlessness, fear, and desperation.  They are not allowed to hold jobs, or use most medical or social service programs. Often they find themselves without any money, living on the street or in detention facilities, doing whatever they need to do in order to survive from one day to the next, unable to communicate well in English, confronted with more anti-LGBT bias, facing culture shock, excluded by their ethnic communities, and struggling for their health after so many traumatic experiences. They are tremendously resilient people, but these challenges can be crushing.

But – yes – there is hope!

“Juan,” whose story appears above, is being helped by Hadwen Park Congregational Church and the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force in Worcester, Massachusetts.  A growing number of churches and LGBT community centers are taking asylum-seekers like him under their wing: Providing them with a sense of community, food, shelter, and a helping hand until their asylum applications are approved by the government and they are able to find work.

The Task Force is part of a national network called the LGBT Faith and Asylum Network (LGBT-FAN) that aims to encourage and help more churches and community centers reach out to people who have fled to America seeking safety.  We have established a website with stories and information about how groups are providing help, who “asylum-seekers” are, and how people can get involved.  Within the next year we plan to set up a charitable fund that will provide grants to churches and other groups that are supporting asylum-seekers’ living expenses. Integrity USA is part of this effort, as are the Episcopal Public Policy Network and leaders from dozens of other faith-based, policy, and human rights organizations.

While I served as Executive Director of Integrity USA, and now as a member of the New Orleans chapter, I have often heard the question raised: Now that we can have our relationships blessed by priests, there are a lot of friendly Episcopal churches, and openly LGBT people can even serve as bishops, what is Integrity for?  Is it time to declare victory and move on?

One answer to that question is that Integrity must continue to exist in order to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison.  One of Integrity’s special missions might be to follow these Christian commandments, with a special focus on people who have landed on our doorsteps after fleeing for their lives because of anti-LGBT bigotry and terror.

If you feel moved to consider that possibility, please visit LGBT-FAN’s website and send us a note through the contact page.  You can check out and for more information.

-Max Niedzwiecki, Ph.D.
Coordinator, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Faith & Asylum Network (LGBT-FAN)
Principal, Daylight Consulting Group
Former Executive Director, Integrity USA

(Photo Credit Jessica Rinaldi - Reuters)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for posting this!

You can learn more about LGBT-FAN here:

You can learn more about the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force here:

More of Juan's story is available here: