LGBT Asylum Support Task Force Helps Refugees Escape Victimization

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The Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) Asylum Support Task Force at Boston Pride 2013.  Photo: TRT/Sean Sullivan

The Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) Asylum Support Task Force at Boston Pride 2013.
Photo: TRT/Sean Sullivan

Worcester-based organization aids abused, persecuted LGBT people worldwide

By: Lauren Walleser/ TRT Reporter—

The Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) Asylum Support Task Force—a community-based organization that operates out of the Hadwen Park Church in Worcester, MA—is comprised of volunteers who support and empower LGBT individuals seeking asylum or refuge in the United States.

Reverend Judith K. Hanlon, senior minister of Hadwen Park Church, co-founder and acting chair of the Task Force, said the organization was founded after a Christian, gay Jamaican working with a pro bono LGBT asylum attorney in Worcester who had suffered from religious abuse in the past contacted her. [pullquote]There are nearly 80 countries where homosexuality is illegal or where homosexual sexual activity is criminalized.[/pullquote]

“Essentially, the one person being helped spawned a congregation that pitches in, that morphed into a community organization that is inter-religious and has helped 62 people from 16 countries in the short time that we have been around,” Hanlon said.

Hanlon said the asylum seekers who have found them are from Jamaica, Cameroon, Lebanon, Zambia, Uganda, Nigeria, Palestine, China, Morocco, Costa Rico, Iraq, and Turkey, with the largest groups from Uganda and Jamaica. There are nearly 80 countries where homosexuality is illegal or where homosexual sexual activity is criminalized. According to Hanlon, some of the issues LGBT asylum seekers and refugees face are government and family authorized corrective gang rape for women, torture, electrocution, mob attacks that force people to move constantly, burning of houses and businesses, hanging, forced selling of daughters into marriage, and stoning. Once asylum seekers reach the U.S. they face additional struggles.

“LGBT asylum seekers are not allowed to work,” Hanlon said. “Many of our folks come just ‘ahead of a machete’ and get here not even knowing about asylum for LGBT persons.  If they don’t file within a year, their case is significantly more difficult.  When they get here, they are surprised to find they can’t work, often can’t go to their ethnic immigrant families who might discover they are gay and throw them out and or report them to U.S. immigration. So, they are on the streets, hungry, couch surfing at best, still closeted and until they are able, perhaps, to slip to a public library computer to research their options, terrified and resourceless.” [pullquote]According to Hanlon, some of the issues LGBT asylum seekers and refugees face are government and family authorized corrective gang rape for women, torture, electrocution, mob attacks that force people to move constantly, burning of houses and businesses, hanging, forced selling of daughters into marriage, and stoning.[/pullquote]

The Task Force provides, finds, or facilitates housing, food, clothing, cell phones for essential communication, transportation, and other resources like health care, psychological care and faith communities for LGBT asylum seekers and refugees. They also educate the public with the hopes of changing policy around the world so that LGBT people will not need to seek asylum because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

CATHY KRISTOFFERSON, a member of the Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition Springfield, explained why she got involved with the issue of LGBT asylum. [pullquote]”My activism work with that coalition has led to an even greater understanding of how U.S. evangelical proselytizing and fanning the flames has created a worldwide epidemic of trans and homophobia from Africa to South and Central America to Eastern Europe.”—Cathy Kristopherson, Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition Springfield[/pullquote]

“At Stop the Hate and Homophobia, we deal with Scott Lively living in our Commonwealth and using it as a base to go forth to spread his lies and hate in his efforts to persecute the gay community here in the U.S. and internationally,” Kristofferson said.  “The Ugandan Kill-The-Gays Bill that resulted from his ‘work’ in that country has now led to a lawsuit against him for crimes against humanity. My activism work with that coalition has led to an even greater understanding of how U.S. evangelical proselytizing and fanning the flames has created a worldwide epidemic of trans and homophobia from Africa to South and Central America to Eastern Europe.”

THE TASK FORCE and their members recently marched in the 2013 Boston Pride Parade with paper bags over their heads in order to raise awareness of the cause.

“The symbolism of marching with paper bags over our heads is to show the fear and hiding that the asylum seekers feel both at home and once they arrive here,” said Kristofferson.

Hanlon said people can get involved by attending meetings in Worcester at the Hadwen Park Church on the first Monday of every month, and they can also donate money. She noted that expenses for taking care of the refugees the Task Force supports costs $4,000 per month, and they do not have any major grants. Kristofferson said people can also support the cause by calling their legislators to tell them they think ending the one year asylum application deadline should be part of comprehensive immigration reform. [pullquote]“The symbolism of marching with paper bags over our heads is to show the fear and hiding that the asylum seekers feel both at home and once they arrive here,” said Kristofferson.[/pullquote]

“I feel it is important that we do what we can not just for the humanitarian reasons that are so obvious, but because homophobia is a huge export of the United States and some other Western countries,” Kristofferson said. “The LGBT community here needs to be a part of the welcoming committee, as it were, and to be part of the fight to makes things easier and better in the asylum process.  After all, an injustice to one is an injustice to all.”

For more information on the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force and to donate online, visit www.lgbtasylum.org.

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1 Comment on "LGBT Asylum Support Task Force Helps Refugees Escape Victimization"

  1. Thank you so much for your wonderful attention to the work that we are doing. I just want to make sure that I clarify that we don’t help refugees. REfugees get support, housing (all the things that we provide our asylum seekers) …..from the federal government. The interchangeable use of refugee and asylum seeker is common. But, we are trying very hard to make sure that we lift up the difference. The essential differece is WHY we started the lgbtasylum.org task force. If you get any questions, I just wanted you to know. If they were refugees, there would be no need for $4000 per month, it would come from the government. This is a complicated situation and very few understand it. We are just grateful to your attention to these amazing human beings situation. So much gratitude even as we learn on the way!
    Pastor Judy Hanlon

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