Resilient Connections: Building the Leadership of LGBTQ Immigrants & Refugees

Ryannah, a Samoan trans activist womyn,* was not able to live as her full self in her country of birth. Ultimately, she was forced to leave and was displaced to the Northwest.

While living in Portland, Ryannah became involved with Unite Oregon as a youth activist. Her efforts focused on issues that were all too familiar to her: the intersection of houselessness and the dehumanization that comes from law enforcement profiling.

Unite Oregon (formerly Center for Intercultural Organizing) leads community-based efforts to protect and expand immigrant and refugee rights through education, civic engagement, policy advocacy, and leadership development. With support of funders like Pride Foundation, Unite Oregon has grown their internal capacity to support the needs of their LGBTQ members and remains a key partner in LGBTQ justice.

Their program, Resilient Connections, connects and empowers Queer, Trans, Immigrants, and Refugees (QTIR) in the Portland Tri-County area. Through Resilient Connections, QTIR leaders advocate for institutional and systemic change on the issues that impact their lives.

Resilient Connections creates a rare and much needed space for queer and trans immigrants and refugees to explore their shared experiences as newcomers to the United States. The group also creates a safe space for participants to talk about the social and cultural isolation they experience within their own ethnic communities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Using their lived experiences as a source of strength, Resilient Connections members develop their own power and leadership skills as they design and implement immigrant rights and social justice campaigns.

Joining Resilient Connections enabled Ryannah to further develop her community organizing and activism. In 2015, she offered testimony in support of the “End Profiling Law”, recounting the numerous times she had been targeted and questioned by law enforcement while taking public transportation. Testimony from QTIR leaders like Ryannah led to the “End Profiling Law” successfully passing in Oregon in 2015.

Reflecting on this victory, Ryannah is thankful for Unite Oregon’s role in organizing and supporting the QTIR community, “In a world that is severely policed, we must take the time to also dig deep into the ways that systems and our society encourages gender policing. Resilient Connections has advocated for a platform for me that intersects all of my identities and my full self.”

Ryannah’s activism has continued to grow exponentially as a result of her role in Resilient Connections. In 2016, she became a community organizer with another Pride Foundation grantee, Gender Justice League in Washington. She has put her skills to work, mobilizing Washingtonians to defend against anti-trans legislation, while setting up local systems to propel liberation for queer and trans immigrants and refugees.

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