"Gay Sex Pervert Can't Boink Wife" in big black typeface took up more than a third of the tabloid newspaper Moses held up for everyone in the audience to see. These words were next to a large photo of him which took up the other third of the paper. Moses had run for his life to America seeking asylum after his community in Uganda found out he was gay. Being gay in Uganda is front page news!
Moses was orphaned at a young age. Both of his parents died of AIDS. The irony is that the same country that donated money to "help" people like Moses' parents, people with HIV, also imported radical anti-gay evangelism that ultimately forced Moses to flee his own country to save his life.
For the past several years, influenced by American evangelicals who have taken their anti-gay fight overseas, the Ugandan government has been trying to pass a bill that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death and would give life sentences to anyone who knows about an LGBT person and doesn't report them to the government. While this horrific law has not passed, LGBT people in Uganda are public enemy #1 and have been violently attacked, some brutally murdered, because of the climate of virulent homophobia.
Moses has a beautiful smile and an androgynous appearance. He is gentle and extremely intelligent. You could hardly imagine the horrors he has experienced by his calm demeanor. He's clearly someone who has learned to roll with the punches. For Moses, the punches started when he was just a boy and was caught engaging in sexual play with another boy his age at his school. Moses spoke about being repeatedly beaten by his father after this was discovered. He learned to hide, but never deny, the truth of who he was.
When he was "outed" again as a young professor, it became clear that he was going to lose his job. He was pressured into marrying a woman. This, of course, did not make him a heterosexual nor stop his true sexual orientation from being expressed, and he was finally forced to leave the country to save his own life. He's applied for asylum in the United States several times and there have been several errors in his case. To date, he has not been granted asylum.
I met Moses at a forum on LGBT asylum presented at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley and sponsored by Rev. Roland Stringfellow of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies.
Neil Grungas, the Executive Director of the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM), painted a grim picture of the situation LGBT asylum seekers face. Unlike LGBT asylum seekers, most heterosexual asylum seekers are reunited with other family or community members. They have the support of their culture and religion to fall back on.
LGBT asylum seekers, however, are fleeing from homophobic family, community, and religious organizations. They are isolated beyond measure and completely dependent on the kindness of strangers. Many LGBT asylum seekers, Grungas says, "flee violence by community members or 'honor killings' by their own families."
Grungas says that even upon relocation, LGBT asylum seekers are at risk for suicide and substance abuse. Many have severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from childhood abuse, sexual abuse, and violent acts against them. In the U.S., they are unable to go to many churches for support because of the churches' anti-gay stance and the LGBT community is not set up to provide the kinds of psychological, vocational, and other support these refugees need.
ORAM is committed to providing training and support to LGBTI organizations and mainstream organizations to help educate them about the needs of LGBT refugees and to helping LGBTI refugees resettle. They have an "Adopt An LGBTI Refugee" program where folks can make donations or literally house an LGBTI refuge.
We met another man from Uganda at the forum, a young gospel singer. He had fled the country only a week earlier after his picture was published in the paper stating that he was involved in a sexual relationship with a priest. A friend of ours had sent out an e-mail the week previously asking us if we would be able to house a young man fleeing Uganda for his life or if we knew anyone else who could. We have a small two bedroom house and I work out of the one room, so I knew it wouldn't work for us. It was surreal to meet this young man at this event and hear his story. Gratefully, another LGBT colleague and his husband took this young man in and are now doing a movie to raise more awareness about this dire reality in Uganda.
We asked Moses, Neil, and the young man how we can help. Moses and the young man said "Tell our stories. Please let people know about what's happening in Uganda. We need more people to know about the LGBT persecution." Neil Grungas encouraged us to let people know about ORAM. "We need volunteers, interns, donations, pro-bono therapists, all of these things could help."
I invite you to share this blog with at least 5 other people so that they can know more about the realities facing LGBT Ugandans and other LGBT asylum seekers. The State Department and social services organizations need more education and information to understand the needs of LGBT people seeking asylum. You can help.
Please consider Adopting-A-Refugee.