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June 10, 2024

Friendship, Pride, Allyship: Meet Kyle, a LGBTQIA+ Refugee Advocate in Minneapolis

When Kyle Kvamme returned home to Minneapolis, Minnesota after serving in the Peace Corps, he sought community, new friends and employment. A chance meeting at a picnic during Twin Cities Pride in 2020 would be life-changing for Kyle. There, he met Juan, a gay man from Venezuela seeking asylum in the U.S. who would not only become his closest friend but also play an influential role in Kyle’s work advocating for LGBTQ refugees.

“I was looking for other queer friends, and it was during COVID, so it was hard to meet other people,” Kyle reflects. “A mutual friend was organizing a Pride picnic in the park, something social distancing appropriate, and that's where I met Juan.”

Juan, too, was looking for community. “It was very charming [meeting Kyle] because I didn't have any queer community here in Minneapolis,” shares Juan. 

As their friendship deepened, Kyle learned more about what forced Juan to flee Venezuela. Since 2014, more than seven million people have fled the country. People like Juan, who identifies as LGBTQ, face increased persecution, harassment and threats.

“I wasn't very familiar with everything going on in Venezuela until I met Juan,” Kyle shares. “Hearing his story inspired me and seeing how Juan was really active, engaged and involved with the LGBTQ community in Venezuela was also inspiring.”

Juan’s story, friendship and activism resonated deeply with Kyle, and he began seeking informational interviews, hoping to find work that he could be passionate about. During one such interview with Alight, a Minneapolis-based humanitarian organization supporting displaced people around the world, Kyle learned about the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration (ORAM). At the time, ORAM shared office space with Alight.

“I noticed a rainbow flag in the window and so I asked, ‘What is this room with this rainbow flag?’,” Kyle shares. “And that's when the person who was giving the tour said, ‘Oh, this is an office space dedicated to ORAM, one of Alight’s affiliate partners that specifically supports LGBTQ refugees.’”

“I thought, what an amazing focus, and I instantly followed them on all their social media accounts, subscribed to their newsletter and got in touch with the organization.”

At the time, there were no openings at ORAM, but in 2022, the organization was hiring a communications and development coordinator. “When I saw the job posting, I immediately contacted Juan and told him about this opportunity,” Kyle recalls with a big smile. “I was really inspired at the time by the work that ORAM was doing in Mexico supporting LGBTQ refugees, many of whom are Venezuelan. Juan’s experience as a queer person from Venezuela was at the front of my mind when I was applying for the role.”

As the Communications and Development Coordinator at ORAM, Kyle plays a vital role in uplifting the stories of refugees. “I have the privilege of speaking to some of the bravest and kindest people, who happen to identify as LGBTIQ refugees,” Kyle shares. “What has warmed my heart is the response from the people who have shared their stories with me. Many of them have been so happy with the finished stories and felt appreciated. That means more to me as a storyteller than any number of views or likes.”

Recently, Kyle had the opportunity to connect with Robert, a former ORAM beneficiary and now a resettled refugee living in the United States. A gay man originally from Uganda, Robert was forced to flee the country due to Uganda’s laws explicitly discriminating against LGBTQ people. He found refuge in Kenya but struggled to make ends meet. A scholarship from ORAM helped Robert attend Linton’s Academy, a cosmetology school where he learned makeup, nail care and massage skills. 

“Speaking with Robert, I realized that as queer people, we have so much more in common, our queerness has so much unity,” says Kyle. “Sitting next to Robert, I could have been sitting next to any friend of mine at any LGBTQ establishment around the country. Those types of interactions make me think, ‘This is why I'm here doing what I do,’ because, at the end of the day, we have so much more in common than what divides us.”

Kyle’s work has also deepened and redefined his friendship with Juan. “The fact that he's working here with ORAM gave us a chance in our relationship to talk about politics and talk about things that are deep,” says Juan. “I think that it opens a new chapter in our friendship.” 

“Juan's been super supportive since I joined ORAM, not only in terms of helping amplify our message and the work we do but also attending events here that we have in the Twin Cities.”

While Kyle’s work helps refugees and asylum-seekers around the world, he sees an opportunity to build awareness and grow support for refugees in Minneapolis — particularly in the LGBTQ community.

“I really want to encourage members of my fellow community, the LGBTQ community, to become refugee allies, especially for LGBTQ refugees who not only have to flee their homes and live outside of what they know, but then also experience double marginalization because of their LGBTQ identities and their identities as a refugee.”

How can you help

Are you inspired by Kyle’s advocacy for LGBTQIA+ refugees? Find out how you can join USA for UNHCR to support refugees in your community and around the globe.