Event honors LGBT refugees

By junior Mayema,

http://www.ktvu.com/web/ktvu/news/29508638-story

– KTVU — Being killed, for being gay.

It’s a reality in more than a half-dozen nations around the world.

Eighty others imprison people for same sex conduct.

“I was stopped at a government checkpoint, targeting me because I was different,” Subhi Nahas, a 28 year old Syrian told a sold-out San Francisco audience Saturday night.

Nahas was one of fourteen LGBT refugees and asylees honored by the Horizons Foundation, a leading philanthropic organization, at its annual gala.

The crowd, packed into the grand ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel, heard Nahas describe ISIL coming to mosques in his hometown, and threatening to “cleanse” the city.

He fled to Lebanon, then Turkey, and finally to the United States, grateful he escaped, and marveling at being out.

“You could be killed, you could be harrassed on the streets, so many horrible things can happen to you because you’re gay or perceived as gay,” Nahas told KTVU.

He now works with as an activist with the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration.

Nahas made it to the Bay Area in June, and was able to take in the celebration, as the Supreme Court made gay marriage the law of the land. But as equality comes to the LGBT community in the U.S., some refugees say there is a growing backlash in repressive countries.

“It’s getting bad, it’s getting worse, ” Junior Mayema told KTVU, after fleeing the Republic of the Congo, and later, South Africa.

“It’s because people read the news and they see how people are celebrating being gay, in North America and Western Europe, and people are becoming more conservative. It’s getting bad.”

The honorees were recognized with Courage Awards from the Horizons Foundation, which raises and grants tens of millions of dollars for LGBT causes and programs.

“I was wondering what would become of my daughter and my partner,” shared refugee Gertrude Metsilegan, from the stage.

She is from Cameroon, and in time, her family was able to join her in the Bay Area.

Agencies that help with resettlement say unlike traditional political refugees, LGBT refugees often arrive with nothing, and knowing no one.

“Because they’re alone, finding them housing hosts is the best model for them,” Holly White of Jewish Families and Child Services of the East Bay.

“We have people who open up their homes, and that’s amazing for the refugees, they get a supportive community from the very beginning,” explained White.

Metsilegan spoke for the assembled recipients, expressing gratitude for the guidance she has received.

“We feel helped, your advice, your support, and your warmth made the impossible, possible, thank you!” she said to applause.

An estimated 3,500 LGBT refugees arrive in the U.S. every year.

Another 1500 come in, granted asylum.

And many remain understandably skittish.

Some honorees declined to be identified on the program, or didn’t want their full name used, or home country listed.

An abundance of caution, that doesn’t just go away.

UN agencies call for end to violence and discrimination against LGBTI community

UN agencies call for end to violence and discrimination against LGBTI community

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=52042#.Vgv4J2RVhHw

“Gai Jatra,” a Nepali festival, has been celebrated for nearly a decade as a version of “LGBTI pride.” Photo: Kyle Knight/IRIN

29 September 2015 – Twelve UN agencies today called for an end to violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) adults, adolescents and children, and set out specific steps to protect these individuals.

“This is the first time that so many members of the UN family have joined forces in defence of the basic rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people,” said Charles Radcliffe, the Chief of Global Issues for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“It’s both an expression of commitment on the part of UN agencies, and a powerful call to action for Governments around the world to do more to tackle homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination and abuses against intersex people,” he added in anews release.

At a high-level event on LGBT rights, held in New York on the margins of the annual debate of the General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauded the agencies for “speaking in one voice” on this critical issue.

“When the human rights of LGBT people are abused, all of us are diminished. Every human life is precious – none is worth more than another,” he stated.

“This United Nations I lead will never shirk in the fight against discrimination. We will never shy away from protecting the most marginalized and vulnerable people. This is not just a personal commitment – it is an institutional one.”

The event highlighted the linkages between protecting the rights of LGBT people and progress towards achieving the new set of global development goals that world leaders adopted last week.

“There are 17 sustainable development goals all based on a single, guiding principle: to leave no one behind. We will only realize this vision if we reach all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Mr. Ban stated.

Ending marginalization and exclusion of LGBT people is a human rights priority – and a development imperative, he continued.

“We are here together to break down the barriers that prevent LGBT people from exercising their full human rights. When we do that, we will liberate them to fully and productively contribute to our common economic progress…. We can show future generations that the best way to advance our shared goals is to embrace all members of our human family – regardless of who they are or whom they love.”

In at least 76 countries, discriminatory laws criminalize private, consensual same-sex relationships, exposing millions of individuals to the risk of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment – and even, in at least five countries, the death penalty.

The joint statement outlines how laws are used to harass, detain, and discriminate against LGBTI people, while laws that criminalize cross-dressing are used to arrest and punish transgender people. These discriminatory laws perpetuate stigma and discrimination, police abuse and torture, and negatively affect public health by hampering vital access to health and HIV treatment and services.

In addition, the statement sets out steps for Governments to stop violence and discrimination against the LGBTI community, including measures to improve the monitoring, reporting and investigation of hate crimes.

In addition to OHCHR, the joint statement has been endorsed by the following UN entities: the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO).


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Citing ‘pervasive abuse,’ new UN report presents recommendations on protecting LGBT rights

This Gay Syrian Refugee Found Asylum In The U.S. And Now He’s On An Amazing Mission and Dutch government admit Russian LGBTIs are in danger, offer asylum

By Junior Mayema,

While LGBT People around the globe are fleeing death in their countries LGBT people in some LGBT who live the more liberal western nations are still focusing on samesex marriages, honeymoons, baby showers and etc… A battle that has been won already instead of focusing on the pressing issue of our community but some LGBT people who are managing to escape are not staying idle or silence once they arrive here in these so-called gay friendly countries, they are creating an underground railroad to safety but the question remains are the services available for the heroes who are making it here ? well the answer is yes in Canada organizations are beginning to figure out where the gaps are with recommendations here is what i received in my e-mail today :

Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights is proud to announce the launch of our new report on issues facing LGBT asylum seekers. The report examines the experiences of LGBT refugee claimants and refugees living in the Greater Toronto Area, and the experiences of community service providers who work with them. It offers 37 recommendations for developing policies and improving services.
Report: Envisioning LGBT Refugee Rights in Canada: Is Canada a Safe Haven?

Date and Time: Tuesday, September 29, 9:00 am – 12:00 noon

Location: The 519, Ballroom, 2nd floor. (519 Church Street, Toronto)
The report will be presented by a panel of members of the Envisioning research team, LGBT refugees and representatives of Envisioning’s community partners.
Speakers:

– Nancy Nicol, Associate Professor, York University, Envisioning Principal Investigator

– Nick Mulé, Associate Professor, York University, chair of Envisioning’s Canada Research Team

– Kathleen Gamble, PhD Candidate, York University, Research Assistant to Envisioning’s Canada Research Team

– Craig Cromwell, Refugee Settlement Coordinator, Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention

– a representative of The 519

– LGBT refugee speakers

– a representative of Ontario Council of Agencies Supporting Immigrants will present the report recommendations
Moderator:

– Ramraajh Sharvendiran, Men’s Sexual Health Coordinator, Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention

The question of whether Canada offers a safe haven to refugees is a very timely one. Our report focuses on LGBT asylum seekers; however, it locates their experiences in the context of recent significant immigration and refugee policy changes in Canada.
The research is based on focus groups that took place in 2012-2014. Focus groups with 92 asylum seekers were organized by Envisioning’s community partners and four other focus groups were held with service providers.
The Canada Research Team partners are: Africans In Partnership Against AIDS, Alliance For South Asian AIDS Prevention, Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention, Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, Pride Uganda Alliance International, Rainbow Health Ontario, The 519 and York University.
The report will be available online following the launch on September 29 at:http://envisioninglgbt.blogspot.ca/p/publicationsresources.…
Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights is an international research and participatory documentary film project, working to research, document and analyze issues of social justice and equality for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people. We are based at York University, Centre for Feminist Research, Toronto, Canada. The project is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Community University Research Alliance (CURA) grant, and conforms to Tri-Council research ethics guidelines. The report “Is Canada a Safe Haven?” is also funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO). While financially supported by SSHRC and the LFO, the findings of this research do not necessarily reflect the views of SSHRC and the LFO.

Contact us: envision@yorku.ca

For more information on Envisioning and to access our resources, please see: Website: www.envisioninglgbt.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/envisioninglgbthumanrights

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EnvisioningLGBT

Nancy Nicol
Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights
606 Kaneff Tower
York University
nnicol@yorku.ca

And here is the link of the story of our friend of Syria who mad it here in America and is now working with organizations to get more people to safety here in North America, i am even in that documentary called no place for me that is when i was still in South Africa  :

http://www.mtv.com/news/2266544/subhi-nahas-found-asylum-in-san-francisco-is-now-helping-other-lgbt-refugees/

LGBT refugees around the world still need help.

It’s not safe to be gay in Syria. All same-sex sexual activity is illegal — LGBT people can face prison sentences of up to three years if their sexual orientation is exposed, and while it’s unsafe for just about everyone in Syria right now, the persecution of the LGBT community has gotten even worse than it used to be in the midst of Syria’s civil war.

Unfortunately, Syria isn’t that unusual — more than 75 countries throughout the world still enforce anti-homosexuality laws (many with much harsher punishments — including the death penalty) — which leads many LGBT refugees to seek asylum in other countries out of fear for their safety.

Subhi Nahas is a gay Syrian who left home after being terrorized for his sexual orientation by the Syrian military, insurgent militias, and even members of his own family. The San Francisco News outlet KQED reports that after an attack from his dad left him hospitalized, Nahas escaped to Lebanon and then fled to Turkey, where he began receiving death threats from ISIS for being gay, before he was eventually granted asylum in the U.S. Now he lives in San Francisco, among a community where he finally feels safe, loved, and supported.

Nahas was recently invited to tell his harrowing story at the first-ever meeting on LGBT rights at the United Nation Security Council, and now that he’s safe, he’s doing everything he can to help other Middle Eastern LGBT Refugees.

Nahas is working with the San Francisco-based Organization for Refuge, Asylum, & Migration (ORAM) — the same organization that helped him find asylum in the U.S. — which provides legal assistance to LGBT refugees and asylum applicants throughout the world. ORAM also provides tools, training and resources to aid workers working with LGBT refugees.

One of these tools is a five-language glossary of LGBT terms — which ORAM’s executive director Neil Grungras told KQED is super essential “so when refugee professionals interview someone who is gay, they don’t call him a male prostitute instead of calling him a gay person, which is very, very common” since “a lot of refugee professionals only know insulting terms for LGBT people around the world.”

According to Nahas, there are at least 400 other LGBT Syrian refugees who have escaped to Turkey, where they still face some very real threats — “In Istanbul and Ankara, groups raised banners calling for gays to be killed,” he wrote in a recent story for the Huffington Post. “My friends are feeling alone and terrified about what might happen to them; the same loneliness and fear that I once felt.”“We may not be able to do much to improve conditions for LGBT people in Syria, Iraq or other countries,” he continued. “But we sure can help the individuals who manage to escape.”

The situation of LGBT people has gotten worse in most part of the world even The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has criticised Russia for its crackdown on internet freedom and lax attitude to gay rights, despite having been granted asylum by the country., living in ‘exile’ in Russia, calls government fundamentally wrong as he accepts Norwegian prize

Here is the story below about it :

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/05/snowden-criticises-russia-internet-homosexuality

The NSA whistleblower, living in ‘exile’ in Russia, calls government fundamentally wrong as he accepts Norwegian prize

Edward Snowden appears via videolink as he is awarded the Bjornson prize.
Edward Snowden appears via videolink as he is awarded the Bjornson prize. Photograph: Ntb Scanpix/Reuters

Edward Snowden has criticised Russia for its crackdown on internet freedom and lax attitude to gay rights, despite having been granted asylum by the country.

The National Security Agency whistleblower described Moscow’s tightening grip over online activities and treatment of gay people as “fundamentally wrong”.

The former US intelligence contractor was given a three-year residence permit in August 2014, but insisted that it was never his choice to go there. He said he would prefer to live in the US, although he cannot return without facing arrest for leaking to the Guardian classified documents revealing the vast scale of the country’s surveillance programmes.

The 32-year-old was accepting the Norwegian Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression’s Bjornson prize – which he was awarded for his work on the right to privacy – by videophone from Russia when he described the country’s restrictions on the web as a “mistake in policy”. He said: “It’s wrong in Russia, and it would be wrong anywhere.

“I’ve been quite critical of [it] in the past and I’ll continue to be in the future, because this drive that we see in the Russian government to control more and more the internet, to control more and more what people are seeing, even parts of personal lives, deciding what is the appropriate or inappropriate way for people to express their love for one another … [is] fundamentally wrong.”

Despite his criticism of Russia, Snowden said he still felt free to express himself online. “I do. And I think it’s primarily in the context of the fact that most activities happen online. I mean, when people ask me where I live, the most honest answer is on the internet.”

But he described the ever more restrictive use of intelligence monitoring by richer nations as useless and said the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January proved that surveillance does not necessarily keep citizens safe.

He said: “They say: ‘Well, these things are necessary to keep us safe’. In the Charlie Hebdo attacks, for example, the intelligence services say: ‘Oh yes, we knew who these people were’. But it didn’t stop the attack.”

Snowden, who left Hawaii in May 2013 for Hong Kong, where he leaked the trove of classified documents before leaving for Russia, said his life is now normal but he misses the US. He said: “I mean, I would prefer to live in my own country. But exile is exile.”

And very happy that a Liberal country like the Netherlands stepped in and  is now trying to get gay people from Russia to safety in Holland the story unfold below ;

http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/dutch-government-admit-russian-lgbtis-are-in-danger-offer-asylum/

Dutch government admit Russian LGBTIs are in danger, offer asylum

Until recently, Moscow and St Petersburg were considered ‘safe spaces’ for LGBTIs – now asylum applications will be made easier

Dutch government admit Russian LGBTIs are in danger, offer asylum

08 September 2015

The Dutch government has declared Russian LGBTI asylum seekers a risk group following a letter by the State Secretary for Security and Justice.

In the letter Klaas Dijkhoff wrote to the Tweede Kamer der Staten-General – the Dutch House of Representatives – he states that the Russian anti-gay laws ‘further fueled anti-gay sentiments among the population’.

‘The law also gives radical groups carte blanche to attack, intimidate or discriminate against LGBTIs, because authorities hardly take action againstacts of violence against them ’ Dijkhoff wrote.

He also highlighted the growing number of attacks and the steep rise in violence against LGBTI people since the law came into force, according to de Volkskrant.

By appointing them as a risk group, Russian LGBTI asylum seekers will be eligible for asylum if they show minor indications of persecution in their home country, although they must still demonstrate this through personal circumstances and facts.

Before the change, cases were treated on an individual basis, with asylum seekers having to explain their situation and lay out the dangers they would face upon their return to Russia.

Until now, the Dutch government still labeled Moscow and St Petersburg as safe places for LGBTIs, despite an official report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stating same-sex couples had to fear violence everywhere in Russia.

‘This is very good news for Russian LGBTI asylum seekers,’ said Tanja Ineke, chair of COC Nederlands, the oldest LGBTI organization in the world.

‘We are counting on the Russian LGBTI asylum seekers who are fearing deportation to also be allowed to remain in the Netherlands.’

In the past, the Dutch government had told LGBTI asylum seekers to move to other places, according to COC Nederlands.

United Nations Security Council to meet on ISIS killings of homosexuals

By Junior Mayema,

 

The USA has its own ISIS as well,

Being LGBT person is still not okay in some part of the USA and in Chile, The USA and Chile must sort out its problem before telling other nations what to do when it comes to be LGBT, USA must eradicate killing of transgender people here back home first.

It is like the  killers of transgender people have a  hate and extremist group across the USA that targets specifically transgender women, they are no different to ISIS terrorists that are throwing gay men off buildings, we have a lot of terrorists in the USA as well like that white supremacist guy who went to a black church and shot dead nine black people.

The killings of trans people are organized, it is called serial killings the USA government must to something to end this that is the reason why FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation was created to deal with this particular issues head-on.

https://m.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/08/14/transgender-killings-on-the-rise-this-is-just-so-crazy/

And here is the news of the meeting on tackling this terrorism below :

U.N. to meet on ISIS killings of homosexuals

Barbaric: It allegedly pertains to the IS-held territory in Aleppo but their brutal punishments have taken place in various places, including the death of this man in Raqqa, Syria after he was accused of being gay

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/08/14/U-N-to-meet-on-ISIS-gay-attacks.html

The U.N. Security Council will hold a meeting this month to hear about ISIS attacks on sexual minorities, the first-ever council meeting focused on gay rights, the U.S. ambassador said on Thursday.

The informal meeting on August 24 will shine a spotlight on “ISIS and its systematic targeting of LGBT persons who find themselves in ISIL-controlled territory,” said Samantha Power.

The U.S. and Chile will host the meeting that will be open to all member-states interested in the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people persecuted by ISIS extremists.

“This will be a historic meeting. It will be the first Security Council meeting on LGBT rights,” Power told reporters.

U.N. envoys will hear accounts from Adnan, an Iraqi who fled northern Iraq after being targeted as gay, Syrian Subhi Nahas, who was also threatened and Jessica Stern, the director of the International Gay and Lesbian Rights Commission.

Power noted that ISIS attacks on gays had been well-documented.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported last month that ISIS fighters dropped two men from a building in the city of Palmyra and then stoned them to death.

It remained unclear how many countries with anti-gay laws would attend the meeting, but Power said she expected a good turnout.

The U.S. is leading an international coalition that has vowed to defeat the extremist group, which declared a caliphate in June 2014 after seizing the Iraqi city of Mosul.

ISIS now controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, and has gained a foothold in Libya, Yemen, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Last Update: Friday, 14 August 2015 KSA 10:39 – GMT 07:39

Gambian president’s nephew faces execution for supporting gay rights

By Junior Mayema

Homophobia that is reaching dangerous level in Africa was not like this before, the laws were not enforced to harm gay people like it is nowadays . Americans rightwing evangelist are one of the main cause of this American Evangelicalism Is Fueling Homophobia Abroad—So Why Isn’t Obama Speaking Out Against It?http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2015/08/05/obama_criticizes_homophobia_in_africa_he_should_also_criticize_the_american.html

Here is the story below :

Gambian president’s nephew faces execution for supporting gay rights

He left Gambia for California, and learned LGBTI people deserve equality along the way

http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/gambian-presidents-nephew-faces-execution-for-supporting-gay-rights/

Gambian president’s nephew faces execution for supporting gay rights

07 August 2015

Growing up in the Gambia, Alagie Jammeh was told that LGBTI people are ‘terrible, evil and should be condemned’.

And he continued to think that, until he ended up as an international student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lived with a gay roommate.

His feelings changed, now supports LGBTI equality and believes that people should not be punished for who they love or who they are.

‘No one should be denied their fundamental basic human rights because of their sexuality,’ the 25-year-old posted on Facebook in September 2014. But just two months later, he found his world had crumbled around him.

His uncle, the President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh, is threatening him with life imprisonment or execution if he ever chooses to return home.

‘Earlier this year, I showed open support on Facebook for LGBTQ people, who I have come to love and respect dearly,’ Jammeh said.

‘Due to this, the scholarship I received to attend UCSB from my home country was revoked, and I was told by the government of the Republic of the Gambia, that if I returned I would face life in prison.

‘Since then, my mother has had to leave the country, I have been alienated by my home government, family and friends, and have suffered financial burdens- leaving me in debt to my University, unstable food sources and housing, and daily stress, anxiety and depression from losing everything I hold dear.’

While his university has given him some support, Jammeh says he wants to still complete his global studies major. He wants to be able to afford the tuition so he is not sent home to be imprisoned or killed, so he has set up a GoFundMe page. In the mean time, he has put in an asylum claim.

He says: ‘Living in the United States, I am not scared to do what I know is right. But what awaits me in my home country is shame and persecution. Even though I have been suffering, I still have my freedom. I want to express myself without fear of losing my life.

‘I realize that my actions were punished by those who do not understand, are frightened of what they do not understand, and will likely never understand the importance of freedom, unbiased education, and embracing people for who they are.’

The Gambian president considers the ‘world is doomed’ because of gay people. In 2014, he signed a law that jailed anyone convicted of homosexuality to life in prison.

He has claimed you can ‘cure’ AIDS with herbs and bananas and has previously referred to gay people as ‘vermin’, ‘anti-God’, and ‘anti-human’. During a 2013 speech at the UN, he described homosexuality as the ‘biggest threat to human existence’.

Video : Racism in the LGBT community affects integration of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers Part 1

By  Junior Mayema,

Here are just some links about racism in the LGBT community below :

Now Is the Time to Start Talking About Racism in the LGBT Community

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ernest-owens/now-is-the-time-to-start-_b_7261390.html

What it’s really like to be a black man in the gay world

http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/what-its-really-be-black-man-gay-world050615/

80 percent of black gay men have experienced racism in the gay community

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/06/11/80-percent-of-black-gay-men-have-experienced-racism-in-the-gay-community/

UK Poll Shows Alarming Racism in Gay Community

http://www.edgeboston.com/news/news/178686/uk_poll_shows_alarming_racism_in_gay_community

Here is a story of a gay white man who was brutalized by police officers in New York Cityrac that i am going to mention in my video below :

EXCLUSIVE: Gay Staten Island man says cops beat him outside of home, shouting homophobic slurs (VIDEO)

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/exclusive-s-man-cops-beat-home-video-article-1.2310298

And here is my video about this issue :

Housing a hurdle for LGBT refugees

By Junior Mayema,

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Leviticus 19:34

LGBT people  in western so-called gay friendly countries are becoming complacent, taking freedom for granted and forgetting about the past, the story below is  a wake up call  :

Junior Mayema, a gay refugee from Africa, needs to find new housing soon. Photo: Courtesy Junior Mayema’s Facebook page

San Francisco’s high housing costs are particularly problematic for LGBT refugees resettled to the Bay Area. Most come with little money, few or no local connections, and uncertain job prospects.

They then find themselves competing for pricey apartments in the same pool of applicants as high-paid tech employees or waitlisted for a room at an affordable housing development. Often their first home in America is a short-term rental offered at a discounted rate or free by a volunteer who has agreed to house LGBT refugees as well as asylum seekers.

“Our biggest challenge in helping these people is to find housing for them,” said Amy Weiss, the director of refugee and immigrant services at Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay. “They come with no employment history and no housing history. San Francisco is hard enough to find housing if you have an income. It is a huge problem for us and for them and to anybody resettling refugees.”

The agency is believed to be the only one in the country that has developed a specific program to work with LGBT refugees. It began four years ago when a number of Iranian LGBT refugees, who had fled to Turkey, needed help resettling in the U.S.

Since then the agency has worked with a number of LGBT refugees, mostly gay men from Africa and the Middle East. In November Junior Mayema arrived from Capetown, South Africa, where he had fled five years ago from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The university student had left Congo’s capital Kinshasa because his pastor mother had vowed to murder him for being gay. He headed for South Africa due to its reputation for having some of the strongest LGBT protections of any nation on the African continent.

Yet Mayema said he encountered xenophobic and homophobic attitudes there and was attacked one evening walking down the street. He also claimed that the local police beat him up when he sought them out to report being harassed by his landlord, as recounted in a story about Mayema posted online by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR staff, after learning about Mayema’s alleged attack, referred his case for resettlement last summer. Four months later, according to the account, he was granted refugee status and, in November, arrived in the Bay Area where he received assistance from the Jewish agency and a local church-sponsored group in acclimating to his new surroundings.

Of all the challenges he faced, “housing was the biggest problem,” said Mayema, 28. “Volunteers knew friends in San Francisco and begged them to give me a room in their house for a few months.”

For the first three months he stayed with a couple in the city’s Sunset district. When they left for a trip to India, he moved in with a woman whose son was away at college.

After that living situation came to an end, Mayema was accepted into a transitional housing program run by a San Francisco nonprofit. But he needs to find new accommodations by September.

“In the U.S. I am facing homelessness,” Mayema told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent interview. “I don’t want to end up on the streets.”

It is a concerning prospect, said Mayema, because he is currently only working part-time as a cashier at AT&T Park, the Giant’s baseball stadium, and has been unable to find full-time work and is unsure how he can afford to pay market rate rents.

“I don’t make enough money,” said Mayema, who would like to return to college and someday work in international law helping other refugees. “You need to have a job to survive. But it is not happening.”

Church group offers help

Mayema has found social support and housing help from the Guardian Group, a committee formed by members of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco. The group began in 2011 after a church member learned about the needs of LGBT refugees from the founder of ORAM, the Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration, according to Galen Workman, a co-founder of the Guardian Group.

The first person they helped was a gay Iranian living in Turkey they had first spoken with via Skype. In 2013 the 21-year-old arrived in the Bay Area as a refugee.

“It was heart breaking,” recalled Workman, 62, a gay man and 32-year member of the church. “He was in a rural area of Turkey with other refugees who didn’t know he was gay.”

The Guardian Group was later introduced to staff at the Jewish agency and now provides what assistance it can to the LGBT refugees, as well LGBT asylum seekers, the East Bay nonprofit helps resettle in the Bay Area. To date, the guardians have worked with a dozen people, all but one a man, equally divided between refugees and asylees.

In addition to housing help, they also try to foster social relationships for the new arrivals. They host dinners and other gatherings, explain how the city’s transit systems work, and assist with navigating government agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and Social Security Administration.

“A real problem for sexual minority refugees is how isolated they are. None of them woke up wanting to go live in the United States,” said Workman. “The fact is the folks we are dealing with had to leave home. They get here and miss their homes, miss their families, miss their friends, miss their status in their home country, and they are very isolated.”

Over the last two years the group has raised $20,000, said treasurer Jay Roller, 68, a gay man who lives in Oakland who used to work for the church and is now retired. The money is used to pay for things like Muni passes, cellphones, and groceries, he said. Such assistance is especially needed for asylum seekers, who arrive in the country on a student or tourist visa and are unable to work while their asylee application is reviewed.

“We are limited in the number of people we can take on by two things: how much money we have to spend and how many people are willing to work with the newcomers,” said Roller. “Believe it or not, we have found most of them free housing in San Francisco. It is not easy, and every time one of them loses their housing, we pull our hair out and start over.”

Cheaper housing elsewhere

Eleven of the people the Guardian Group has helped remain in the Bay Area, while the first person they met recently relocated to Atlanta. He did so in search of cheaper housing and better job opportunities.

So far the move has been positive, as the 25-year-old found an apartment in the city’s Midtown neighborhood and is working as a bartender and waiter at a restaurant.

“I had 65 interviews in (San Francisco) to get a better job. None gave me job; I was really frustrated,” said Firooz, who asked that his last name not be used for fear his family still in Iran could be targeted by religious extremists due to his being gay.

While Firooz praised the Guardian Group for the help he received while in the Bay Area, he questioned the logic of trying to resettle refugees in such an expensive part of the country.

“Refugees in Bay Area not a wise decision. It is not good because Bay Area is not a good address for refugees. Because Bay Area is over, over, very expensive,” said Firooz, who taught himself English while living in Turkey though he admits he still struggles with the language. “I was trying to get better house opportunity; I couldn’t. I had to get out.”

The cost of living in the Bay Area is certainly a challenge compared to other, less expensive regions of the country, acknowledged Weiss, but those areas may not be as hospitable toward LGBT people and not a good location to send refugees already traumatized due to being persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“With LGBT refugees, the gay community is here. It is not in Ohio,” said Weiss. “We just welcome them the best we can.”

Clair Farley, the associate director of economic development at the LGBT Community Center, said the San Francisco agency routinely fields calls from people around the world looking to move to the area. It now works with a local attorney to offer legal clinics for LGBT asylum seekers and tries to help both asylees and refugees find employment.

“We do see a lot of barriers in supporting folks who are looking for work, mainly because most of our employer partners we work with do require a work visa or some level of documentation,” said Farley. “We have really had to think outside the box how to connect people to additional training or partner with people looking to hire folks.”

The center can also make referrals to housing providers or enroll those who are eligible into its own housing programs that help people access below-market-rate rental units. But finding new arrivals affordable housing is vexing, said Farley.

“Unfortunately, I think in San Francisco there really isn’t a great housing solution,” she said. “In addition to employment, housing is the largest barrier any low-income person, including immigrants, has to navigate.”

More funding needed

What support the Jewish agency can provide to LGBT people resettled to the Bay Area is limited by its funding constraints, said Holly White, its director of grants and communications.

It receives $55,000 in grant funding from HIAS, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which has a contract through the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. Another $14,000 comes from grants provided by the Horizons Foundation, which focuses on LGBT funding needs, and the group Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights.

The money helps pay for a part-time program coordinator, who could easily work full-time, said White. Another need is to hire a mental health clinician, added White, to work specifically with LGBT refugees, who are often suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the trauma they have experienced.

“It is not enough. We do specific fundraising for the LGBT refugee program,” said White, who estimated the agency could easily use another $100,000 to hire additional dedicated staff. “We really need something like a housing employment specialist to help these people find housing and jobs.”

The needs are expected to grow as more LGBT people confront harassment and prejudice in their home countries and seek safety in the U.S.

“We are anticipating more people being open in the refugee application process” about being LGBT, said White, “and getting directed toward us.”

One of the agency’s “biggest goals,” added White, is to rent a 1- or 3-bedroom apartment on a permanent basis where it can house LGBT refugees and asylees and help them establish a new life.

“But in this market that costs a lot of money,” said White.

For the time being, the agency relies on volunteers willing to house a person in a room in their house. It places people in San Francisco as well as Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

“We are desperately looking for help with housing,” said Weiss. “Coming off the plane, for a refugee having a place to live with someone hosting, particularly a gay person, is an incredible gift.”

The agency arranges for the two parties to sign a written rental agreement, and the refugee pays about $200 in rent in order to maintain their government benefits.

“The model we have been using has been working well enough,” said Weiss. “We are able to get people in the door.”

Refugees receive eight months worth of welfare benefits, food stamps, and a little less than $2,000 total, which Weiss said is administered through the agency overseeing their resettlement. The money is meant to cover their first three months in the country, regardless of where they get settled.

“It is not a lot of money,” she noted. “The whole idea is it is not a welfare program to take care of people indefinitely. We are going to get you through the door and up and going on your feet.”

Determined to make a new life for himself, Mayema enrolled in a program that provides free counseling to refugees dealing with trauma. It has proven beneficial he said, even though he remains concerned about his job prospects and housing situation.

“I am trying to focus on the positivity and not thinking I won’t be safe,” said Mayema, who plans to apply for a green card in November. “If you can’t fit in in San Francisco, one of the most gay friendly cities in the world, where are you going to fit in? You need to find your way.”

More community support needed

Yet the government and local LGBT community, said Mayema, could do more to support LGBT refugees and asylees find housing. This fall he may move in with a friend he met who lives in the East Bay or he has thought about moving to Portland as he has heard rents are less expensive there.

“Staying at someone’s house is not what you want,” he said. “There needs to be some housing facility for them.”

Brian Basinger, the founder and director of the AIDS Housing Alliance/San Francisco, called the housing situation for refugees “depressing.” In early 2014 he organized a meeting at the LGBT Community Center to bring together local leaders interested in coordinating a solution.

Although connections were made, Basinger said there is still a need for “a coordinated and collaborative effort to prioritize and address the specific housing needs of asylum seekers and refugees. It is something that needs to happen, definitely.”

He pointed to development agencies focused on specific minority groups, such as the city’s Chinese and Latino communities, as a model for what the LGBT community needs to form. The groundwork has been laid, Basinger noted, by his agency and others focused on housing for LGBT seniors, youth, and people living with HIV or AIDS.

“But we still need a massive LGBT housing organization,” he said. “We have other communities that have housing organizations with tens of millions of dollars in budget and they just do housing.”

Lewis Nightingale, who attended the meeting called by Basinger, agreed. He and his husband hosted a gay man from Turkey seeking asylum for five months in their home while they tried to find him more permanent housing.

“During that time we repeatedly reached out to our social media contacts for someone to offer him the next place or help out or something. We were surprised to receive no response; no one offered,” said Nightingale.

Having befriended several gay Russians in the Bay Area, Nightingale saw how critical the housing needs are especially for LGBT asylum seekers.

“People arrive without warning. They don’t announce before they are coming; they basically show up,” he noted. “We need to have a way to house them, at least temporarily, so they can stabilize their situation.”

Most people he contacted about the issue, said Nightingale, gave him “almost universally negative” advice.

“The reason was twofold, I would say. We already have our own significant population of low-income people and homeless population,” he said. “Also, there was a sense asylum seekers are choosing the most expensive place to come to in the country and it is difficult to raise money for housing in such a market. The advice was to urge them to go elsewhere, somewhere cheaper.”

Undaunted, Nightingale created a Facebook page called ” class=entity>Housing for Asylum Seekers” where people able to can offer temporary housing.

LGBT refugees and asylees are arriving in the city at a time when there already is a need to house thousands of homeless LGBT people, said Basinger, whose agency has worked with six LGBT refugees over the past 11 years.

“I think every LGBT person in the world has a right to experiencing San Francisco values. What it feels like to have social acceptance and be celebrated for who they are. Every human being deserves that,” said Basinger. “But our infrastructure is not in place. We have not invested in our values.”

What is needed, said Workman, is for the local LGBT community to rally in support for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers similar to how it came together to fight AIDS.

“We have no real response to the international persecution of sexual minorities,” he said. “I wish we had a San Francisco response to this as we did to the AIDS crisis. The need is huge.”

Added Weiss, “We are looking to work with anybody who wants to partner with us to help figure this out.”

To donate to or join the Guardian Group, visit its website at http://www.refugeeguardiangroup.org or call Workman at (415) 647-8830.

For information about volunteering with the Jewish services agency, visit its website at http://www.jfcs-eastbay.org/ or call volunteer coordinator Kathryn Winogura at (925) 927-2000.