Freedom, Human Dignity, and Self-Reliance

A few years ago, a family came to America seeking refuge and the American dream. They moved from a life of instability in a war-torn country; traveling through several borders along the way and spending several years of their life displaced.

The family entered the outskirts of the booming metropolis of Seattle in hopes of finding prosperity and acceptance. They settled into a community amongst other refugees from their country and finally felt at home.

As the family adapted to their new surroundings and life in America, the father began to question his son’s sexuality—fearing that his teenager was gay. His suspicions arose along with his fears, fear of being rejected, persecuted, and again displaced. The father became resentful towards his son.

Angry, he sent his son back to their country of origin—to a place where he could face death simply because of who he is.

The mother of the young man was unaware of the actions of her husband until the son was well on his way back to their country of origin. Expectedly still in shock, the mother made a brave decision to travel back and retrieve her son. Luckily, she was able to locate him, and the two travelled back to Seattle; back to a community that now knows their family’s secrets, a community that may reject them, and a broken home.

This is unfortunately not a story of one, but a story of many.

Recognizing the gap in services available to support LGBTQ immigrants and refugees, the International Rescue Committee (IRC)—an organization founded in 1993 that serves refugees and communities victimized by oppression or violent conflict worldwide—set out to provide services to assist with education around LGBTQ rights and acceptance.

What they found was that many programs exist to treat past-trauma—trauma faced within their countries of origin—but no programs existed to address violence faced once in the United States. Given that many immigrants originate from countries where acceptance and tolerance of LGBTQ people are not the norm (and in many places are even punishable), it is understandable that immigrant communities can sometimes be unfriendly toward LGBTQ people. A community’s reaction to ‘coming out’ could be incredibly dangerous.

Although the IRC recognized these pitfalls, the question remained: how do you best support people on their journey toward acceptance and understanding? When? And where?

This dilemma prompted the IRC to apply for a grant from Pride Foundation to provide increased education for all newly arriving refugees on the LGBTQ community, as well as additional support for all LGBTQ-identified refugees arriving in Seattle and greater King County.

You can learn more about the IRC and the important work they’re doing in our community, here. Pride Foundation is excited to fund this innovative and critical project—providing much-needed support and resources to LGBTQ refugees and their families.

Joleen Oerman is Pride Foundation’s Communications Intern.

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